[Federal Register: December 24, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 248)]
[Notices]               
[Page 79068-79072]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr24de08-51]                              

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DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

 
National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research--
Disability and Rehabilitation Research Projects and Centers Program--
Disability Rehabilitation Research Projects (DRRPs)

AGENCY: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, 
Department of Education.

ACTION: Notice of final priorities for DRRPs.

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SUMMARY: The Assistant Secretary for Special Education and 
Rehabilitative Services announces two priorities for the Disability and 
Rehabilitation Research Projects and Centers Program administered by 
the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research 
(NIDRR). The Assistant Secretary may use one or more of these 
priorities for competitions in fiscal year (FY) 2009 and later years. 
We take this action to focus research attention on areas of national 
need. We intend these priorities to improve rehabilitation services and 
outcomes for individuals with disabilities.

DATES: Effective Date: These priorities are effective January 23, 2009.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Donna Nangle, U.S. Department of 
Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW., room 6029, Potomac Center Plaza 
(PCP), Washington, DC 20202-2700. Telephone: (202) 245-7462 or by e-
mail: donna.nangle@ed.gov.
    If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), call the 
Federal Relay Service (FRS) at 1-800-877-8339.
    Individuals with disabilities can obtain this document in an 
accessible format (e.g., braille, large print, audiotape, or computer 
diskette) on request to the contact person listed under FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Disability and Rehabilitation Research Projects (DRRP) Program

    The purpose of the DRRP Program is to improve the effectiveness of 
services authorized under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 
by developing methods, procedures, and rehabilitation technologies that 
advance a wide range of independent living and employment outcomes for 
individuals with disabilities, especially individuals with the most 
severe disabilities. DRRPs carry out one or more of the following types 
of activities, as specified and defined in 34 CFR 350.13 through 
350.19: Research, development, demonstration, training, dissemination, 
utilization, and technical assistance.
    An applicant for assistance under this program must demonstrate in 
its application how it will address, in whole or in part, the needs of 
individuals with disabilities from minority backgrounds (34 CFR 
350.40(a)). The approaches an applicant may take to meet this 
requirement are found in 34 CFR 350.40(b). In addition, NIDRR intends 
to require all DRRP applicants to meet the requirements of the General 
Disability and Rehabilitation Research Projects (DRRP) Requirements 
priority that it published in a notice of final priorities in the 
Federal Register on April 28, 2006 (71 FR 25472).
    Additional information on the DRRP Program can be found at: 
http://www.ed.gov/rschstat/research/pubs/res-program.html%23DRRP.
    We published a notice of proposed priorities (NPP) for NIDRR's 
Disability and Rehabilitation Research Projects and Centers Program in 
the Federal Register on May 30, 2008 (73 FR 31078). The NPP included 
background statements that described our rationale for the two 
priorities proposed in that notice.
    There are differences between the NPP and this notice of final 
priorities (NFP) as discussed in the following section.
    In this NFP, we are announcing two final priorities for DRRPs. 
These final priorities are:
     Priority 1--Research and Technical Assistance Center on 
Vocational Rehabilitation Program Management.
     Priority 2--Center on the Effective Delivery of 
Rehabilitation Technology by State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies 
to Improve Employment Outcomes.

Analysis of Comments and Changes

    In response to our invitation in the NPP, one party submitted 
comments on the proposed priorities for the DRRPs. An analysis of the 
comments and of any changes in the priorities since publication of the 
NPP follows.
    Generally, we do not address technical and other minor changes, or 
suggested changes the law does not authorize us to make under the 
applicable statutory authority. In addition, we do not address general 
comments that raised concerns not directly related to the proposed 
priorities.

Priority 1--Research and Technical Assistance Center on Vocational 
Rehabilitation Program Management

    Comment: One commenter recommended that this Center be required to 
have an advisory panel.
    Discussion: We agree and will make the change requested by the 
commenter.
    Changes: We have added language requiring the Center to establish 
an advisory committee comprised of individuals who are knowledgeable 
about VR program management practices including researchers, State VR 
agency representatives, VR providers, State Rehabilitation Council 
representatives, employers, individuals with disabilities, and parents 
of individuals with disabilities. Further we have added language 
stating the advisory committee must be designed to provide guidance to 
the Center on its research and technical assistance activities.
    Comment: One commenter recommended that the Center be required to 
provide State VR agencies with information about costs associated with 
implementing new State vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency program 
management practices or policies that the Center develops.
    Discussion: We agree that cost information could be critical, for 
example, in helping States make decisions regarding whether or how to 
implement the Center's management model or its components, and that 
cost effectiveness should be considered in identifying effective 
practices and in developing the management model. However, we note that 
the cost of implementing any particular policy or practice is likely to 
vary substantially from one State VR agency to another because of 
differences among the State VR agencies (e.g., in the number of 
personnel, type of training needed, size and type of client population, 
size of agency) and the contexts in which each State agency operates 
(e.g., location of agency in State government, whether the State is 
primarily urban or rural).
    Changes: We have added language requiring that the Center consider 
cost-effectiveness in identifying effective practices and in developing 
the management model and include information, to the extent possible, 
on the cost of the model and its components in the technical assistance

[[Page 79069]]

materials to be developed for the use of State VR agencies.
    Comment: One commenter recommended that the Center be required to 
establish criteria for identifying best VR program management 
practices.
    Discussion: NIDRR agrees with this suggestion and will require that 
applicants propose, in their applications, the specific criteria they 
will use to identify effective VR program management practices.
    Changes: We have modified paragraph (a) of the priority to require 
applicants to propose, in their applications, the specific criteria 
they will use to identify effective VR program management practices.
    Comment: One commenter noted that each State VR agency faces unique 
budgetary and service delivery challenges. This commenter noted that 
the Center must take into account these program differences and 
establish criteria for selecting partner agencies that are designed to 
ensure a representative cross-section of VR programs.
    Discussion: The requirement that the Center collaborate with 5 to 
10 State VR agencies will help to ensure that VR program management 
models developed by the Center are responsive to the needs of programs 
with widely varying budgets and unique service delivery contexts. 
However, in the interest of maximizing the utility and relevance of the 
VR Program Management Model to be developed by the Center (under 
paragraph (b) of the priority), we agree that the States selected must 
be reasonably diverse.
    Changes: We have added language requiring that the methods and 
criteria for selecting Partner State VR Agencies provide for diversity, 
to the extent possible, in the size, location, and type of State 
agency.
    Comment: One commenter recommended that the 5 to 10 State VR 
agencies that serve as partners in the Center's activities be 
compensated by the Center.
    Discussion: NIDRR allows applicants to determine how they will 
ensure the active collaboration of partner entities. Nothing in this 
priority would prevent an applicant from proposing to compensate the 5 
to 10 Partner State VR Agencies. NIDRR will rely on the peer review 
process to evaluate the quality, feasibility, and costs of a proposed 
Center's collaborative efforts.
    Changes: None.
    Comment: One commenter recommended that the Center should 
coordinate with the Council of State Administrators of Vocational 
Rehabilitation (CSAVR) when selecting Partner State VR Agencies. This 
commenter also recommended that the Center work with CSAVR on an 
ongoing basis.
    Discussion: The priority requires that applicants describe the 
methods and criteria they will use to recruit and select Partner State 
VR Agencies for collaboration and partnership. Applicants are free to 
coordinate with CSAVR as part of this effort to select and recruit 
State VR partners. However, NIDRR has no basis for requiring that all 
applicants propose such a partnership. Similarly, applicants are free 
to propose ongoing collaboration and partnership with CSAVR, though 
NIDRR has no basis for requiring all applicants to do so. NIDRR will 
rely on the peer review process to determine the quality of the 
selection process for Partner State VR Agencies.
    Changes: None.
    Comment: One commenter recommended that NIDRR impose minimum 
qualifications for Center applicants, including knowledge of people 
with disabilities and employment of people with disabilities; support 
letters from State VR agencies; a track record of effective service 
delivery; a history of providing quality training and technical 
assistance to States; and expertise in evaluating State-level programs.
    Discussion: NIDRR recognizes the importance of the qualifications 
suggested by the commenter. However, NIDRR has no regulatory or 
statutory basis for requiring that applicants meet these specific 
minimum qualifications. NIDRR utilizes expert peer review panels, which 
apply established selection criteria to assess the qualifications and 
expertise of proposed project personnel. NIDRR utilizes peer review 
criteria from 34 CFR 350.54(n) to rate the relevant expertise of 
proposed project staff. For example, one criterion requires peer 
reviewers to rate the extent to which key personnel and other key staff 
have appropriate training and experience in disciplines required to 
conduct all proposed activities (34 CFR 350.54(n)(3)(i)). Other 
criteria require peer reviewers to rate the extent to which the key 
personnel are knowledgeable about the methodology and literature of 
pertinent subject areas (34 CFR 350.54(n)(3)(iii)) and the extent to 
which key personnel have up-to-date knowledge from research or 
effective practice in the subject area covered in the priority (34 CFR 
350.54(n)(3)(v)). These criteria are designed to ensure that applicants 
have the capacity to carry out the project.
    Changes: None.

Priority 2--Center on the Effective Delivery of Rehabilitation 
Technology by State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies to Improve 
Employment Outcomes

    Comment: One commenter recommended that State Assistive Technology 
(AT) programs should be on the Center's advisory committee and that the 
Center should work closely with such programs.
    Discussion: NIDRR agrees with the commenter's suggestion and has 
changed the priority accordingly.
    Changes: We have modified the priority to require that the Center 
include a representative of State AT programs on its advisory 
committee. We have also changed the priority to require that the Center 
consult with its NIDRR Project Officer to coordinate its efforts with 
State AT programs.
    Comment: One commenter recommended that the Center be required to 
provide information about the costs associated with implementing new 
practices or policies that support the effective use of rehabilitation 
technology that the Center identifies.
    Discussion: We agree that cost information could be critical, for 
example, in helping States make decisions regarding whether or how to 
implement any given policy or practice identified by the Center, and 
that cost effectiveness should be a consideration in identifying 
effective practices. However, we note that the cost of implementing any 
particular policy or practice is likely to vary substantially from one 
State VR agency to another because of differences among State VR 
agencies (e.g., in the number of personnel, type of training needed, 
size and type of client population, size of agency) and the context in 
which each State agency operates (e.g., location of agency in State 
government, whether the State is primarily urban or rural).
    Changes: We have added language requiring that the Center consider 
cost-effectiveness in identifying effective practices and to include 
information on the costs of practices, to the extent possible, in 
exemplars, tools, and guidance developed for the use of State VR 
agencies.

    Note: This notice does not solicit applications. In any year in 
which we choose to use these priorities, we invite applications 
through a notice in the Federal Register. When inviting applications 
we designate the priorities as absolute, competitive preference, or 
invitational. The effect of each type of priority follows:
    Absolute priority: Under an absolute priority, we consider only 
applications that meet the priority (34 CFR 75.105(c)(3)).

[[Page 79070]]

    Competitive preference priority: Under a competitive preference 
priority, we give competitive preference to an application by either 
(1) awarding additional points, depending on how well or the extent 
to which the application meets the competitive preference priority 
(34 CFR 75.105(c)(2)(i)); or (2) selecting an application that meets 
the competitive preference priority over an application of 
comparable merit that does not meet the priority (34 CFR 
75.105(c)(2)(ii)).
    Invitational priority: Under an invitational priority, we are 
particularly interested in applications that meet the invitational 
priority. However, we do not give an application that meets the 
invitational priority a competitive or absolute preference over 
other applications (34 CFR 75.105(c)(1)).

    This NFP is in concert with President George W. Bush's New Freedom 
Initiative (NFI) and NIDRR's Final Long-Range Plan for FY 2005-2009 
(Plan). Background information on the NFI can be accessed on the 
Internet at the following site: http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/newfreedom
    The Plan, which was published in the Federal Register on February 
15, 2006 (71 FR 8165), can be accessed on the Internet at the following 
site: http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/osers/nidrr/policy.html
    Through the implementation of the NFI and the Plan, NIDRR seeks to: 
(1) Improve the quality and utility of disability and rehabilitation 
research; (2) foster an exchange of expertise, information, and 
training to facilitate the advancement of knowledge and understanding 
of the unique needs of traditionally underserved populations; (3) 
determine best strategies and programs to improve rehabilitation 
outcomes for underserved populations; (4) identify research gaps; (5) 
identify mechanisms of integrating research and practice; and (6) 
disseminate findings.

Priority 1--Research and Technical Assistance Center on Vocational 
Rehabilitation Program Management

    The Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative 
Services announces a priority to establish, under the Disability and 
Rehabilitation Research Program (DRRP), a Research and Technical 
Assistance Center on Vocational Rehabilitation Program Management 
(Center). The Center must conduct research to develop a model of 
vocational rehabilitation (VR) program management, which must include a 
focus on quality assurance, strategic planning, and human resource 
management. The Center must then develop and test the model, and use it 
as the basis for training and technical assistance (TA) to improve 
management practices within individual State VR agencies.
    Under this priority, the Center must be designed to contribute to 
the following outcomes:
    (a) New knowledge of effective VR program management. The Center 
must contribute to this outcome by identifying effective VR program 
management practices, including at a minimum, practices in the areas of 
quality assurance, strategic planning, and human resource management. 
(Applicants must propose, in their applications, the specific criteria 
they will use to identify effective VR program management practices, 
including consideration of their cost effectiveness.) The Center's work 
in this area must be designed to result in knowledge that could be used 
to assist State VR agencies in the following:

Quality Assurance

     Develop methodologies to ensure that performance data are 
accurate and analyses of the data are sound;
     Implement effective quality assurance processes;
     Implement effective fiscal planning and accountability 
mechanisms;

Strategic Planning

     Develop agency goals and strategies, and evaluate progress 
made toward achieving these goals;
     Develop key performance measures and use performance data 
for program improvement;

Human Resource Management

     Implement effective employee training, staff development, 
and career development; and
     Implement effective leadership development and succession 
planning.
    (b) A new evidence-based model of effective VR program management 
(VR Program Management Model). The Center must contribute to this 
outcome by partnering with approximately 5 to 10 State VR agencies to 
develop a VR Program Management Model that, to the maximum extent 
possible, is informed by evidence of the effectiveness of specific 
management practices, including cost effectiveness. Applicants must 
describe in their applications the methods and criteria they will use 
to recruit and select State VR agencies with which they will partner 
(Partner State VR Agencies) for this activity. At a minimum, such 
methods and criteria must provide for diversity, to the extent 
possible, in the size, location, and type of State VR agencies to be 
selected. NIDRR will review and approve the final selection of Partner 
State VR Agencies. The Center must work with the Partner State VR 
Agencies to identify, describe, and document the components of the VR 
Program Management Model, which must include, at a minimum, quality 
assurance, strategic planning, and human resource management 
components.
    (c) Enhanced VR program management through implementation of the VR 
Program Management Model. The Center must contribute to this outcome by 
developing exemplars, tools, and guidance that other State VR agencies 
(i.e., State VR agencies that are not Partner State VR Agencies) can 
use to implement the VR Program Management Model within their unique 
contexts, including information on the costs of implementing the 
management model and its components, to the extent possible. The Center 
must provide training and TA to individual State VR agencies to 
facilitate the implementation of some or all of the components of the 
VR Program Management Model, depending on the unique needs of the 
agency's VR program.
    In addition, the Center must--
     Establish an advisory committee comprised of individuals 
who are knowledgeable about VR program management practices including 
researchers, State VR agency representatives, VR providers, State 
Rehabilitation Council representatives, employers, individuals with 
disabilities, and parents of individuals with disabilities. This 
advisory committee must be designed to provide guidance to the Center 
on its research and TA activities;
     Disseminate TA materials that it has developed on program 
management topics under paragraph (c) of this priority to other 
projects that provide TA to State VR agencies (e.g., the Technical 
Assistance and Continuing Education (TACE) projects that the 
Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) funded in FY 2008 and FY 
2009 under title III of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended 
(Act);
     Coordinate TA with all entities that comprise the national 
VR TA network, including: The TACE projects; the IL-Net Training and 
Technical Assistance projects for centers for independent living and 
statewide independent living councils funded by RSA under title VII of 
the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Act); the national VR TA 
center that RSA funded in FY 2008 under section 12 of the Act; and 
NIDRR's Rehabilitation Research and Training Centers focused on 
employment. Coordination is intended to ensure consistency of TA 
provided nationally on VR program management; and

[[Page 79071]]

     Each year, after year one of the project period, plan to 
present findings at a three-day national conference of State VR 
administrators to be held in Washington, DC.

Priority 2--Center on the Effective Delivery of Rehabilitation 
Technology by State Vocational Rehabilitation Agencies To Improve 
Employment Outcomes

    The Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative 
Services announces a priority for a Disability and Rehabilitation 
Research Project (DRRP) to serve as the Center on the Effective 
Delivery of Rehabilitation Technology by State Vocational 
Rehabilitation Agencies to Improve Employment Outcomes (Center). The 
Center must conduct research to identify the policies, procedures, and 
practices that result in the effective delivery of rehabilitation 
technology (RT), as defined in 34 CFR 361.5(b)(45), by employment and 
training programs to assist individuals with disabilities to achieve 
employment outcomes, as defined in 34 CFR 361.5(b)(16). Under this 
priority, the Center must be designed to contribute to the following 
outcomes:
    (a) New knowledge regarding models of effective RT service 
delivery. The Center must contribute to this outcome by identifying 
existing employment and training programs, including programs 
administered by State VR agencies, that effectively deliver RT services 
to assist individuals with disabilities achieve employment outcomes. 
Applicants must describe in their applications the methods and criteria 
they will use to identify and select the model employment and training 
programs. NIDRR will review and approve the final selection of the 
employment and training programs. The Center must work with the 
selected programs to identify, describe, and document the policies, 
procedures, and practices that result in effective RT service delivery, 
including information on the costs of implementing such policies, 
procedures, and practices, to the extent possible.
    (b) New knowledge of the systemic supports necessary for the 
effective delivery of RT services. The Center must contribute to this 
outcome by conducting research to identify the policies and practices 
of employment and training programs, including but not limited to those 
operated by State VR agencies, that support the effective use of RT to 
help individuals with disabilities achieve and maintain employment 
outcomes. The Center's work in this area must be designed to result in 
knowledge that assists employment and training programs to--
     Identify and assess the quality and effectiveness, 
including cost-effectiveness, of their policies and practices related 
to the delivery of RT services;
     Change existing policies or develop new policies that are 
specifically designed to improve the delivery of RT services;
     Implement effective strategies to improve practices to 
support the delivery of RT services; and
     Develop and implement methodologies to collect data on the 
impact of RT services on employment outcomes.
    (c) Enhanced knowledge of effective RT service delivery among 
administrators of State VR agencies and other employment and training 
programs for individuals with disabilities. The Center must contribute 
to this outcome by using the knowledge gained from the activities 
described in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this priority to develop 
exemplars, tools, and guidance that State VR agencies can use to change 
existing policies or develop new policies and practices within their 
unique contexts, including information on the costs of implementing 
such policies and practices, to the extent possible. The Center must 
disseminate these materials to State VR agencies and other employment 
and training programs for individuals with disabilities.
    In addition, the Center must--
     In consultation with its NIDRR Project Officer, coordinate 
the Center's dissemination and outreach efforts with relevant programs. 
These programs include the Research and Technical Assistance Center on 
Vocational Rehabilitation Program Management that NIDRR intends to fund 
in FY 2009; the regionally based Technical Assistance and Continuing 
Education (TACE) projects that the Rehabilitation Services 
Administration (RSA) funded in FY 2008 and FY 2009 under title III of 
the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (Act); the IL-Net Training 
and Technical Assistance projects for centers for independent living 
and statewide independent living councils funded by RSA under title VII 
of the Act; the national VR TA center that RSA funded in FY 2008 under 
section 12 of the Act; NIDRR's Rehabilitation Research and Training 
Centers (RRTCs) focused on employment; the NIDRR network of Knowledge 
Translation grantees; the Department's Office of Special Education 
Programs' Technical Assistance and Dissemination Network and Technical 
Assistance Communities of Practice; State Assistive Technology (AT) 
programs; the Department's Office of Vocational and Adult Education's 
National Research Center for Career and Technical Education; and 
programs sponsored through the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of 
Disability Employment Policy. The Center must coordinate with these 
entities, as appropriate, to disseminate the exemplars, tools, 
guidance, and knowledge developed through activities conducted under 
paragraphs (a), (b), and (c) of this priority to State VR agencies, 
employers, individuals with disabilities, and other entities that serve 
or employ individuals with disabilities;
     Share the exemplars, tools, guidance, and knowledge 
developed through activities conducted under paragraphs (a), (b), and 
(c) of this priority with appropriate RSA and NIDRR research and 
dissemination centers, including the National Center for the 
Dissemination of Disability Research, the Research Utilization Support 
and Help Project, and the Center for International Rehabilitation 
Research Information and Exchange; and
     Establish an advisory committee comprised of individuals 
who are knowledgeable about RT including researchers, State VR agency 
representatives, VR providers, State AT program representatives, 
employers, transition planners, secondary and postsecondary educators, 
individuals with disabilities, and parents of individuals with 
disabilities. This advisory committee must be designed to provide 
guidance to the Center on its research and TA activities.
     Each year after year one of the project period, plan to 
present findings at a three-day national conference of State VR 
administrators to be held in Washington, DC.

Executive Order 12866

    This NFP has been reviewed in accordance with Executive Order 
12866. Under the terms of the order, we have assessed the potential 
costs and benefits of this regulatory action.
    The potential costs associated with this NFP are those resulting 
from statutory requirements and those we have determined as necessary 
for administering this program effectively and efficiently.
    In assessing the potential costs and benefits--both quantitative 
and qualitative--of this NFP, we have determined that the benefits of 
the final priorities justify the costs.
    Summary of potential costs and benefits:

[[Page 79072]]

    The benefits of the Disability and Rehabilitation Research Projects 
and Centers Program have been well established over the years in that 
similar projects have been completed successfully. These final 
priorities will generate new knowledge and technologies through 
research, development, dissemination, utilization, and technical 
assistance projects.
    Another benefit of these final priorities is that the establishment 
of new DRRPs will support the President's NFI and will improve the 
lives of individuals with disabilities. The new DRRPs will generate, 
disseminate, and promote the use of new information that will improve 
the options for individuals with disabilities to perform regular 
activities in the community.
    Applicable Program Regulations: 34 CFR part 350.

Electronic Access to This Document

    You may view this document, as well as all other Department of 
Education documents published in the Federal Register, in text or Adobe 
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    Note: The official version of this document is the document 
published in the Federal Register. Free Internet access to the 
official edition of the Federal Register and the Code of Federal 
Regulations is available on GPO Access at: 
http://www.gpoaccess.gov/nara/index.html


(Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Number 84.133A Disability 
Rehabilitation Research Projects)


    Program Authority: 29 U.S.C. 762(g) and 764(a).

    Dated: December 19, 2008.
Tracy R. Justesen,
Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
[FR Doc. E8-30702 Filed 12-23-08; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 4000-01-P