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Disability Insurance Observer: Uncle Sam, Job Coach

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Dozens of federal programs are trying to help people with federal programs find jobs, but only a few do much to measure what kind of a job they’re doing.

Officials at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) have published that finding in a report prepared for Congress in compliance with the Government Performance and Results Act Modernization Act of 2010 (GPRAMA).

To me it seems as if this report illustrates an important point about the federal government: If we could get past the idea that just about all government programs are inherently evil and ought to be stopped before they plug us into giant battery chargers, or that all government programs are wonderful and ought to be protected from those wicked, greedy corporate executive, maybe we could come together and identify a bunch of programs that are legal, moral and reasonably ethical, by most folks’ standards, but just aren’t working that well and could use some fixing or eliminating.

There are some people who would say that people with disabilities have no right to support other than, perhaps, court protection of their property rights, a share of freely given charitable donations and copies of Atlas Shrugged. In the real world, I think most human societies have made a haphazard effort to provide community-funded help for people with serious disabilities.

Of course, the best way to help people is to help them find jobs, so they don’t need charity.

The GAO says federal government has at least 45 programs that help people with disabilities find jobs.

Some of the programs serve people with disabilities along with members of the general population, such as students and  military veterans. Others focus on serving people with disabilities.

About 32 of the programs try to track at least one employment-related outcome — but 13 don’t track outcomes — and the only program that actually had a study demonstrating its impact on the clients was the Job Corps, the GAO officials said.

Even when programs could provide some performance indicators, they provided different kinds of indicators, meaning that comparing the effectiveness of the programs is difficult, the officials said.

It seems as if these programs are violating the principle that, in order to improve at any task, you have to be able to measure your performance in a consistent way and compare your results with others’ results.

If the program managers can’t do that, one wonders how well equipped they are to help people with disabilities find jobs.

Many of these people have no private disability insurance, but it seems reasonable to think that some might, and it would be good if the government program managers could reach out and tap private return-to-work program managers performance measurement expertise.

One interesting characteristic of the report is that it doesn’t seem to mention private insurance or private return-to-work firms at all.

The downside: We seem to have a failure to communicate.

The upside: Given that communication seems to be so poor, maybe even a little bit of private-public sector interaction could do a significant amount of good.