For Immediate Release
CONTACT: Mel Jones, Director of Communications & Development
LITTLE ROCK, February 1—IRS job training programs at World Services for the Blind will be suspended until further notice because of an executive order from President Donald J. Trump that imposes a 90-day hiring freeze on civilian federal workers. The order, signed on January 23, 2017, states that “no vacant positions existing at noon on January 22, 2017, may be filled and no new positions may be created, except in limited circumstances.”
The IRS programs, which are part of a 50-year partnership between WSB and the IRS, provide intensive training for people who are blind or visually impaired to work in a variety of positions within the federal agency. Participants interview for the positions prior to beginning the program, and those accepted are assigned to work at one of several IRS offices around the country. Participants are guaranteed those jobs upon successful completion of the program.
Immediately affected are the 10 students who, as of last week, were in their third week of a four-week evaluation for the Taxpayer Service Representative (TSR) Program. The 13-week program is designed to prepare a person to assist taxpayers with filing information at the Taxpayer Service Division of the IRS. The curriculum includes instruction in IRS tax law, accounts, procedures and forms. The students had been scheduled to begin their interviews on Friday, the same day staff confirmed the program’s cancellation with the IRS.
“Last week was one of the hardest weeks of my 17 months at WSB,” said Sharon Giovinazzo, president and CEO of the organization. “Standing before these 10 people and having to tell them that because of the hiring freeze they would not have a class was devastating. And while we are working to get these students into other programs that they may be interested in, they came here specifically for the guarantee of employment that the IRS programs offer. Instead they learned the lesson that the only guarantee is that there are no guarantees.”
The suspension comes at a time when WSB has experienced a turnaround under Giovinazzo’s leadership. With an expanded suite of career training programs, WSB has seen a renewed interest in programs that will help decrease the 70-percent unemployment rate among people who are blind. And while the hiring freeze is only effective for 90 days, the effects will last much longer.
“All exemptions under the Schedule A Hiring Authority, which allows preferential hiring for people with disabilities, must be placed by September 30. At the end of September those exemptions are no longer valid, and new exemptions will need to be reevaluated by each federal agency and will not be released until sometime in 2018,” Giovinazzo said.
In addition to the TSR class, the executive order also affects the Service Center Collection Representative Program, scheduled for summer 2017. The IRS has not issued an official statement regarding the executive order’s effect on the programs. The partnership between WSB and the IRS is the only one of its kind.