I know this is off topic, but thought it important enough to post.
Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER)
For further information, contact--
Mark Richert Executive Director, AER markr@xxxxxxxxxx
February 8, 2005
===== RSA Commissioner Joanne Wilson Resigns--Upheaval in VR May Be in Progress =====
Today, Rehabilitative Services Administration (RSA) Commissioner Joanne Wilson announced her intention to resign her position effective March 1, 2005. Although such a change in senior leadership at the beginning of a second Presidential term is not uncommon and rumors of this possible departure have been circulating for months, speculation about the future of the incumbent in the office of RSA Commissioner was today put to rest. Every expectation is that another candidate for the post would not be permanently appointed until the conclusion of congressional work to reauthorize the Rehabilitation Act, work that has lingered for years. Moreover, it is not clear that the position will remain a Presidentially-appointed post given that the US House of Representatives and the Administration have consistently advocated the demotion of the position from a Commissioner to a Director, effectively diminishing the office's political standing and resulting overall clout and potential effectiveness.
Commissioner Wilson's announcement comes on the heels of a haphazardly announced plan by the Administration to eliminate some five-dozen positions within RSA nationwide, effectively shutting down the regional RSA Commissioners' offices and substantially reducing the overall bureaucratic capacity to provide effective monitoring of the federal/state vocational rehabilitation program across the country. The Administration's position is that such monitoring may be equally, if not more, effective through a centralization of this function in the national RSA office. Although there are federal employees union considerations to be taken into account, the tenure of these many staff is quite uncertain.
These developments are made all the more interesting in light of the ongoing legislative and federal budgetary efforts now in play which threaten to result in a significant consolidation of VR with other job training and related programs on a scale not previously undertaken. Although the trend toward this result has been building for some time, the determination with which the Administration is pursuing an integrated agenda to fundamentally reshape the delivery of VR services on several fronts simultaneously should be of grave concern to all professionals in, and advocates for, the public VR system.
It is no secret that, throughout her term as RSA Commissioner, Joanne Wilson has instigated and/or continued an array of actions and inactions which have been consistently rejected as fundamentally flawed by an overwhelming consensus in our field. AER and other organizations of and for individuals who are blind or visually impaired have actively communicated our concerns about such threats to true consumer choice, quality services, professional credentials and the impact of certain practices on the civil rights of people with disabilities served in federally-funded state VR programs. It is quite clear that these expressions of concern have been heard and understood. We can only hope that, as the process moves forward to seek a successor to the office of RSA Commissioner, or for a Director as the case may be, that the Administration will look to candidates who are prepared to honor the individuality of consumer needs and choices and who will affirm, rather than undermine, quality professional services meeting those unique needs. To be sure, AER will continue to advocate for the maintenance of the current appointment status of the RSA Commissioner--during the previous Congress, AER led the field in this regard through three separate Capitol Hill activities that brought over 350 AER members, chapter and division leaders and our colleagues to Washington to seek the concurrence of Congress on this critical issue.
However, the confluence of these recent announcements strongly implies that the future viability of the federal VR program as we know it may be in serious jeopardy. As has been reported widely in recent days, the Administration's latest proposal for the Department of Labor includes a Workforce Investment Act Consolidated Grant Program which would give Governors the flexibility to meet local needs by combining any one of nine programs, including VR, into a consolidated state plan. Since work to reauthorize the Rehab Act is still very much in play, advocates will need to be prepared to respond when called upon to support the future integrity of VR dollars and the quality of services. As always, AER will continue to work with this Administration to communicate our concerns, and strategies are now being developed among our partner organizations and related groups, including vR program administrators, to respond most effectively. Further information will be provided here as it becomes available.
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