FR Doc 2010-19609
[Federal Register: August 9, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 152)]
[Notices]               
[Page 47798-47801]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr09au10-48]                                  

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DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION

 
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services--Special 
Demonstration Programs--Model Demonstration Project To Improve Outcomes 
for Individuals Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) 
Served by State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Agencies

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

ACTION: Notice of final priority.

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    Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) Number: 84.235L.

SUMMARY: The Assistant Secretary for Special Education and 
Rehabilitative Services establishes a priority under the Special 
Demonstration Programs to fund a project to identify, develop, and 
implement a model demonstration project to improve outcomes for 
individuals receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) 
served by State vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies. The Assistant 
Secretary may use this priority for competitions in fiscal year (FY) 
2010 and later years. We take this action to improve employment 
outcomes for SSDI beneficiaries receiving services from State VR 
agencies.

DATES: Effective Date: This priority is effective September 8, 2010.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Thomas Finch, U.S. Department of 
Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW., room 5147, Potomac Center Plaza 
(PCP), Washington, DC 20202-2800. Telephone: (202) 245-7343 or by e-
mail: tom.finch@ed.gov.
    If you use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD), call the 
Federal Relay Service (FRS), toll free, at 1-800-877-8339.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:
    Purpose of Program: The purpose of this program is to expand and 
improve the provision of rehabilitation and other services authorized 
under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended (the Rehabilitation 
Act), or to support activities that increase the provision, extent, 
availability, scope, and quality of rehabilitation services provided 
under the Rehabilitation Act.

    Program Authority: 29 U.S.C. 773(b).

    Applicable Program Regulations: 34 CFR part 373.
    We published a notice of proposed priority for this program in the 
Federal Register on March 26, 2010 (75 FR 14582). That notice contained 
background information and our reasons for proposing the particular 
priority.
    Except for minor editorial revisions, there are no differences 
between the proposed priority and this final priority.
    Public Comment: In response to our invitation in the notice of 
proposed priority, four parties submitted comments on the proposed 
priority. An analysis of the comments and of any changes in the 
priority since publication of the proposed priority follows.
    Generally, we do not address technical and other minor editorial 
changes and suggested changes the law does not authorize us to make 
under the applicable statutory authority.

Analysis of Comments and Changes

    Comment: None.
    Discussion: Upon further internal review of the text of the 
proposed priority, we identified a number of small editorial changes 
that we believe make the priority clearer.
    Changes: In addition to making a number of small clarifying 
changes, we have revised the bulleted paragraphs of the priority to 
identify them as paragraphs (a), (b), and (c) so that we can more 
easily cross-reference the requirements contained in those paragraphs.
    Comment: One commenter suggested that the priority should permit 
the grantee to identify effective VR practices by conducting in-depth 
case studies of State VR agencies, including State VR agencies with 
poor and satisfactory outcomes, through analysis of RSA-911 data.
    Discussion: The purpose of this priority is to conduct an in-depth 
analysis of factors that contribute to high performance in State VR 
agencies. While there may be worthwhile information to be gained by 
examining agencies with poor and satisfactory outcomes, the Department 
seeks to use this priority to target high-performing States, if after 
preliminary analyses it is determined that there are a number of high-
performing States to investigate. Applicants are free to propose the 
process that will be used to identify States that are high-performing. 
Nothing in this priority precludes an applicant from proposing a 
project that includes comparing high-performing States with

[[Page 47799]]

States that have a history of poor and satisfactory outcomes in this 
area.
    Changes: None.
    Comment: One commenter recommended that the grantee examine the 
characteristics of the SSDI cases to determine if State VR agencies are 
serving similar or different segments of the SSDI population.
    Discussion: We recognize that there may be differences in the 
characteristics of SSDI beneficiaries served by State VR agencies and 
that the services provided to different segments of the SSDI population 
may vary. Nothing in this priority would prohibit an applicant from 
proposing and justifying an analysis that examined such differences.
    Changes: None.
    Comment: One commenter stated that the priority should require the 
grantee to examine the employment outcomes associated with individuals 
receiving both SSDI and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
    Discussion: This priority does not focus on individuals receiving 
both SSDI and SSI benefits at the time they are served by State VR 
agencies. While the background section of the notice of proposed 
priority included individuals receiving both SSI and SSDI as a focus of 
the proposed priority, this was an administrative error and was not 
reflected in the priority itself. We believe that the approach of 
focusing the priority on individuals receiving only SSDI at the time 
they are served by State VR agencies is appropriate because the 
differences between the SSI and SSDI programs (e.g., eligibility) and 
SSI and SSDI recipients (e.g., work history, amount of disability 
payment, work-related incentives/disincentives) would make it difficult 
to analyze, interpret, and generalize the results of an examination 
that focused on individuals receiving both SSI and SSDI.
    Changes: None.
    Comment: One commenter recommended that the Department require more 
preliminary research from the grantee. The commenter suggested that 
such research would help ensure that the grantee designs an effective 
demonstration project.
    Discussion: We agree with the commenter that preliminary research 
is needed. We recognize that a demonstration project of considerable 
scope requires significant time and effort to identify effective 
practices and to translate these practices into a demonstration that is 
replicable. For this reason, paragraph (a) of this priority requires 
the project to begin with an analysis of extant data and in-depth case 
studies in order to identify key factors related to outcomes and to 
facilitate design of a demonstration project based on research 
findings.
    Changes: None.
    Comment: Two commenters suggested that it will take 24 to 36 months 
to collect sufficient data to demonstrate effective practices and 
measure employment outcomes.
    Discussion: We recognize that in order to meet the requirements of 
this priority the grantee will need an intervention period of at least 
24 months (beginning from the time of enrollment of SSDI beneficiaries 
in the VR program to the time they achieve employment outcomes) to 
implement its demonstration project in the selected sites. In addition, 
time will be required to track records, analyze data, measure 
employment outcomes, and disseminate the findings of the demonstration 
project to State VR agencies. We agree that it will likely require 24 
to 36 months for the grantee to conduct adequate follow-up for analyses 
of outcomes. However, we believe it is best to allow applicants to 
determine and justify in their applications the exact timeline they 
will need to implement the requirements of this priority.
    Changes: None.
    Comment: One commenter asked if proposed projects must focus on the 
development of effective practices to assist SSDI beneficiaries or if 
proposed projects can examine practices that increase employment 
outcomes for State VR clients, which can then be demonstrated to also 
work with SSDI beneficiaries.
    Discussion: The focus of this priority is on factors that improve 
outcomes for SSDI beneficiaries. Therefore, while the Department 
recognizes that effective practices in State VR agencies may have 
general applicability and not be specific to any one target population 
(e.g., individuals receiving SSDI), the focus of this priority is on 
effective practices that improve outcomes for the specific population 
of SSDI beneficiaries, whether or not such practices benefit other 
populations.
    Changes: None.
    Comment: One commenter suggested that the Department use this 
priority to examine the employment outcomes associated with SSDI 
beneficiaries served by State VR agencies and compare them to the 
employment outcomes associated with all SSDI beneficiaries in the 
State.
    Discussion: The purpose of this priority is to examine factors that 
increase employment outcomes and to develop effective practices to 
assist State VR agencies to increase employment outcomes for SSDI 
beneficiaries. The focus of the priority is on SSDI beneficiaries who 
receive services from State VR agencies. Nothing in this priority would 
preclude an applicant from proposing an analysis of characteristics of 
SSDI beneficiaries served by State VR agencies in comparison with the 
characteristics of all SSDI beneficiaries in a State during the case 
study phase of the project. However, we do not have a sufficient basis 
for requiring that all applicants conduct such an analysis.
    Changes: None.
    Comment: One commenter expressed concern about the requirement in 
the priority that the intervention be based on factors within the 
control of the State VR agency. If no such factors are identified 
through the case studies, this commenter asked whether the grantee may 
develop and implement ``novel'' approaches to developing evidence-based 
return-to-work strategies and interventions for SSDI beneficiaries.
    Discussion: The Department anticipates funding this priority as a 
cooperative agreement and will work closely with the grantee at every 
stage of the project. We will work with the grantee to determine next 
steps in the event that the case study analysis of SSDI beneficiary 
outcomes does not provide evidence of a sufficient number of factors 
related to better employment outcomes that are within the control of 
the State VR agency or in the event that the Department determines that 
it is not feasible to implement, demonstrate, and evaluate the 
intervention model proposed by the grantee. Next steps may include 
working with the grantee on how it would otherwise accomplish the goals 
of the project or ending the project following the Department's review.
    Changes: Paragraph (b) of the priority has been revised to make it 
clear that the grantee will consult with the Rehabilitation Services 
Administration to determine next steps in the event that the case study 
analysis of SSDI beneficiary outcomes does not provide evidence of a 
sufficient number of factors related to better employment outcomes that 
are within the control of the State VR agency or in the event that the 
Department determines that it is not feasible to implement, 
demonstrate, and evaluate the intervention model proposed by the 
grantee.
    Comment: One commenter suggested that the Department sponsor a 
related project that emphasizes the involvement of State VR agencies in 
early intervention and job retention.
    Discussion: The Department recognizes the importance of providing 
VR services that focus on early intervention and of providing those 
services to currently or recently

[[Page 47800]]

employed individuals to help them retain their jobs. However, early 
intervention is not the focus of this priority, and the Department 
cannot comment on the content of future priorities.
    Changes: None.
    Comment: Two commenters recommended that the priority be revised to 
require the grantee to conduct rigorous and analytical research on 
effective practices, such as evidence-based interventions for supported 
employment, benefits counseling, and behavioral/attitudinal changes.
    Discussion: The Department agrees that additional research on 
effective practices is important. For this reason, we are funding 
research on effective VR practices through the National Institute on 
Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). NIDRR published a 
notice of final priority on this topic on July 8, 2010 (75 FR 39220) 
and anticipates making an award for this project prior to September 30, 
2010. Applicants for that priority can suggest additional effective 
practices for study.
    Changes: None.
    Comment: One commenter suggested that the priority require site 
selection to be methodical and include an analysis of organizational 
capacity and existing services that impact employment outcomes for SSDI 
beneficiaries.
    Discussion: As indicated in paragraph (c) of the priority, sites 
must be selected based on an analysis of existing and available data 
that indicate relatively better qualitative and quantitative outcomes 
for SSDI beneficiaries, compared to the results achieved by other State 
VR agencies. Applicants are free to propose additional criteria for 
selecting sites.
    Changes: None.
    Comment: One commenter recommended that the priority require the 
use of analytical techniques, including random assignment, to study the 
development and implementation of evidence-based practices.
    Discussion: We have designed this priority to build on information 
available in extant data systems and are requiring the grantee to (a) 
conduct in-depth case studies to determine factors that both impede and 
support strategies that result in better employment outcomes for SSDI 
beneficiaries and (b) design, implement, and evaluate a demonstration 
project based on the results of those case studies. The next step for a 
demonstration project funded under this priority may be taking the 
grantee's intervention to scale and could involve random assignment and 
other research designs that would further demonstrate the efficacy of 
the interventions. The Department will closely monitor the grantee's 
demonstration to determine if it would be worthwhile to fund projects 
in the future that focus on scaling up effective practices.
    Changes: None.
    Comment: One commenter recommended that the Department examine 
State unemployment insurance (UI) wage records in order to track 
employment earnings for this priority.
    Discussion: The Department recognizes the usefulness of these data 
for the purpose of evaluation. State VR agency access to UI wage 
records data varies from State to State. While applicants are free to 
propose the use of these data for case study analyses, we have no basis 
for requiring that all applicants adopt this approach. That said, the 
Department and the Social Security Administration (SSA) have had a data 
sharing Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in place since 2003. Data files 
merged pursuant to this MOA include earnings records for SSDI 
beneficiaries, and we will continue to examine these data in order to 
assess the impact of State VR policies, practices, and services on 
beneficiaries.
    Changes: None.

Final Priority

    Model Demonstration Project to Improve Outcomes for Individuals 
Receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) served by State 
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) Agencies.
    The Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative 
Services establishes a priority under the Special Demonstration 
Programs to fund a project to identify, develop, and implement a model 
demonstration project to improve outcomes for individuals receiving 
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) who are served by State 
vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies. Under this priority, the 
project must be designed to--
    (a) Identify, through in-depth case studies of selected State VR 
agencies, the factors that account for these agencies achieving 
employment outcomes that are at or above substantial gainful activity 
(SGA) for the SSDI beneficiaries they serve;
    (b) After consultation with the Rehabilitation Services 
Administration (RSA), determine whether, of the identified factors, 
there are a sufficient number of factors related to the better 
employment outcome results that are within the control of the State VR 
agency, and if so, develop an intervention model incorporating those 
factors that can be replicated in other State VR agencies and that can 
be evaluated in terms of the model's impact after implementation;
    (c) Implement and evaluate an intervention model based on 
replicable factors identified in case studies in at least three State 
VR agencies, selected by RSA based on information provided by the 
grantee, that are willing to implement the model. One criterion for 
selecting these State VR agencies to participate in the model 
demonstration project is that the SSDI beneficiaries whom these 
agencies serve have an employment outcome rate at or below the rate for 
other State VR agencies; and
    (d) If the intervention model implemented under paragraph (c) of 
this priority shows an improved employment rate for SSDI beneficiaries, 
revise the intervention model based on information learned from the 
model demonstration project, recommend any strategies needed for 
implementation of the model by other State VR agencies, and disseminate 
the findings of this demonstration project to State VR agencies.
    Types of Priorities: When inviting applications for a competition 
using one or more priorities, we designate the type of each priority as 
absolute, competitive preference, or invitational through a notice in 
the Federal Register. 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)).
    Competitive preference priority: Under a competitive preference 
priority, we give competitive preference to an application by (1) 
awarding additional points, depending on the extent to which the 
application meets the priority (34 CFR 75.105(c)(2)(i)); or (2) 
selecting an application that meets the 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 priority. 
However, we do not give an application that meets the priority a 
preference over other applications (34 CFR 75.105(c)(1)).
    This notice does not preclude us from proposing additional 
priorities, requirements, definitions, or selection criteria, subject 
to meeting applicable rulemaking requirements.

    Note: This notice does not solicit applications. In any year in 
which we choose to use this priority, we invite applications through 
a notice in the Federal Register.

    Executive Order 12866: This notice has been reviewed in accordance 
with

[[Page 47801]]

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 final regulatory action 
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 final regulatory action, we have determined 
that the benefits of the final priority justify the costs.
    We have determined, also, that this final regulatory action does 
not unduly interfere with State, local, and Tribal governments in the 
exercise of their governmental functions.
    We summarized the costs and benefits of this regulatory action in 
the notice of proposed priority.
    Intergovernmental Review: This program is subject to Executive 
Order 12372 and the regulations in 34 CFR part 79. One of the 
objectives of the Executive order is to foster an intergovernmental 
partnership and a strengthened federalism. The Executive order relies 
on processes developed by State and local governments for coordination 
and review of proposed Federal financial assistance.
    This document provides early notification of our specific plans and 
actions for this program.
    Accessible Format: Individuals with disabilities can obtain this 
document in an accessible format (e.g., braille, large print, 
audiotape, or computer diskette) by contacting the Grants and Contracts 
Services Team, U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue, SW., 
room 5075, PCP, Washington, DC 20202-2550. Telephone: (202) 245-7363. 
If you use a TDD, call the FRS, toll-free, at 1-800-877-8339.
    Electronic Access to This Document: You can view this document, as 
well as all other documents of this Department published in the Federal 
Register, in the text or Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) on the 
Internet at the following site: http://www.ed.gov/news/fedregister. To 
use PDF you must have the Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is available free 
at this site.

    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.


    Dated: August 4, 2010.
Alexa Posny,
Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.
[FR Doc. 2010-19609 Filed 8-6-10; 8:45 am]
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