- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 15, 2014

A federal contractor is going to court over the government’s set-asides for work for the severely disabled, arguing that when it comes to highly classified intelligence jobs that require top secret security clearance, there aren’t enough potential employees who qualify.

In a recently unsealed bid protest, a service contractor for several National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency installations in the Midwest says that after 14 years on the job, it’s being shut out because of the federal government’s decision to set aside work for the blind and severely disabled under the AbilityOne program.

“With near certainty, there are no severely disabled, unemployed individuals in the St. Louis Missouri area carrying TS/SCI clearances,” Craig Holman, a lawyer for Akima Intra Data LLC, argued in a U.S. Federal Claims Court complaint unsealed last week.

Products or services appearing on the AbilityOne procurement list, overseen by a small federal agency, must be purchased from specific vendors employing disabled and/or blind contract workers.

But almost all the contract jobs at the intelligence agency posts require top secret, compartmented information background checks — one of the government’s most sensitive clearances, according to Akima.

The base operations contract held by Akima provides services at a dozen agency annexes in a highly classified facility in St. Louis, parts of which date back to the Civil War and don’t meet standards under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the company said.

The number of contract jobs isn’t disclosed in the federal complaint, which contains numerous redactions. Nor is the overall contract value, but documents refer to it as a multimillion dollar procurement where the services include classified waste disposal, property inventory, security, mail and janitorial services.

In seeking to hang onto its contract, the company cites National Security Agency advice that persons undergoing a polygraph “must be in good physical and mental health,” adding that numerous factors can disqualify an individual, including “mental or physical fatigue” and “pain or discomfort.”

The company also argued the set aside has “no chance” to create jobs for the unemployed, severely disabled and will only raise the cost of the services to taxpayers.

“Indeed, existing Department of Defense security guidelines render it improbable that individuals meeting the definition of severely disabled can obtain the necessary clearances,” the company said in its filing.

But Curt Decker, executive director of the National Disability Rights Network, said there’s no reason why severely disabled people can’t get the required clearances. Indeed, he said his organization already has helped people get clearances across the government.

He said one woman couldn’t get fingerprinted because she had no arms, but she was deserving of — and eventually received — a security clearance.

“It’s ludicrous that a person with a severe disability can’t get a security clearance,” he said. “We have tons of people in the federal government with different levels of clearances regardless of the disability.”

Akima, however, insists that even if top secret clearances weren’t necessary, “no pool of unemployed, qualified severely disabled individuals exists for these jobs in the St. Louis area.”

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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