President Joe Biden is appointing four new private citizen members to the independent federal agency that supports employment for more than 42,000 individuals who are blind or have significant disabilities.
The 15-member U.S. AbilityOne Commission has 11 representatives from federal departments and agencies along with the four citizen members.
Biden will be appointing Bryan Bashin, Christina Brandt, Gabriel M. Cazares and Chai Rachel Feldblum to the commission’s citizen commissioner seats. They have vast and varied experience in providing services and business opportunities for people with disabilities in the government and private sectors, according to an announcement obtained by CQ Roll Call.
Feldblum, a Georgetown University Law Center professor and former commissioner on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, also played key roles in drafting the Americans With Disabilities Act and the 2008 ADA Amendments Act.
“There is a limit to what an anti-discrimination law, like the ADA, can do to put a dent in the unacceptable unemployment and underemployment of people with significant disabilities,” Feldblum said in a statement.
“We must use all levers possible to incentivize hiring people with significant disabilities, including setting aspirational targets for all government contractors and federal agencies, and using government contracts to result in the hiring of people with significant disabilities,” Feldblum said. “I hope to provide my expertise and strategic thinking in using the lever of government contracting in the most effective way possible.”
According to the administration, the agency works with nearly 500 nonprofit entities to provide more than 42,000 jobs. AbilityOne plays a significant role in government contracting, with nearly $4 billion in products and services for federal customers in fiscal 2020.
Bashin is CEO of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually-Impaired, which employs many blind workers through National Industries for the Blind.
Brandt is CEO of the Washington state-based organization AtWork!, which evolved from what’s known as a sheltered workplace, where people with disabilities work for subminimum wages, to what the White House described in a statement as a “nationally recognized best-practice provider of customized and integrated community employment.”
Cazares, a former government affairs manager at the National Federation of the Blind, has been serving as director of the Office for People with Disabilities in the Houston mayor’s office. His announcement for that position said he described himself as a “policy wonk” with experience drafting both regulations and legislation.
“My professional career has focused on advancing the full integration of blind and other people with disabilities in every aspect of community life, including education, employment, and civic engagement,” Cazares said. “Government contracting can and must incentivize the recruitment, retention, and promotion of workers with significant disabilities in integrated environments across all industries.”
Current commission chairperson Jeffrey A. Koses welcomed the incoming members in a statement.
“The Commission is honored to welcome these four new private citizen members, whose contributions will be essential to continuing the modernization of the AbilityOne Program while increasing employment opportunities for people who are blind or have significant disabilities,” said Koses, who is senior procurement executive at the General Services Administration.