AbilityOne Program, United States | History, Employment Opportunities & FAQ


The AbilityOne Program is a major contributor to employment opportunities in the United States for individuals who are blind or have significant disabilities. Over 440 nonprofit organizations are actively involved in employing these individuals and delivering high-quality products and services to the Federal Government at competitive market rates.

This initiative is overseen by the U.S. AbilityOne Commission, which operates as an independent Federal agency, in collaboration with the support of the National Industries for the Blind (NIB) and SourceAmerica®. The official name for the U.S. AbilityOne Commission was formerly the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled.

Some key milestones in the history of the AbilityOne Program:

1. In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Wagner-O’Day Act, which established the Committee on Purchases of Blind-Made Products, later known as the U.S. AbilityOne Commission.

2. In the 1940s, during World War II, individuals with visual impairments played a vital role in meeting the growing demand for various military products.

3. In 1952, NIB introduced the SKILCRAFT® brand for quality products made by individuals who are blind.

4. In 1971, the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Act expanded the program to include people with significant disabilities and provide services, in addition to products.

5. In 1974, National Industries for the Severely Handicapped (later NISH and then SourceAmerica®) became a Central Nonprofit Agency (CNA) in the JWOD Program.

6. Throughout the years, the AbilityOne Program adapted to various challenges and expanded to support the military and disaster relief efforts.

7. In 2006, the program was renamed the AbilityOne Program to enhance its brand recognition.

8. In 2018, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) joined NIB and SourceAmerica as an AbilityOne CNA.

9. In 2022, the AbilityOne Program implemented a rule prohibiting the payment of subminimum wages on contracts, effective from October 19, 2022.

These milestones reflect the remarkable evolution of the AbilityOne Program in providing employment opportunities and support for individuals with disabilities in the United States.

Frequency Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What is the AbilityOne Program?

The AbilityOne® Program stands as one of the largest employment initiatives in the United States for people who are blind or have significant disabilities. Administered by the U.S. AbilityOne Commission, formerly known as the Committee for Purchase From People Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled, this program involves a nationwide network of around 450 nonprofit agencies. It is dedicated to providing quality products and services to the Federal Government at fair market prices, thereby creating jobs for roughly 40,000 individuals.

2. Is the AbilityOne Program a priority program?

Yes, the AbilityOne Program holds a priority status in accordance with the Javits-Wagner O’Day Act, the Competition in Contracting Act, and the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). FAR 8.002 outlines the order of priority for supplies and services to meet agency needs.

3. Does AbilityOne have priority over all other sources?

While AbilityOne enjoys priority, Federal Prison Industries (FPI) takes precedence for supply (product) purchases, as indicated by FAR 8.704. Contracting offices must seek a formal waiver from FPI (FAR 8.604) before procuring supply items from AbilityOne nonprofit agencies.

4. What is the authority to contract under the AbilityOne Program?

Under the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA), AbilityOne procurements are considered “other than competitive” procurements. The FAR 6.302-5 clause allows exceptions to full and open competition when a statute expressly authorizes or requires acquisitions from a specific source. Nonprofit agencies employing people with disabilities are explicitly recognized as an authorized application of this exception, aligning with the JWOD Act and FAR Subpart 8.7. For DoD contracting activities, 10 U.S.C. 2304 (c)(5) is used as the exception on award documents.

Under FAR 8.7, implementing guidance for the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act is provided. FAR Subpart 8.7, particularly FAR 8.704, outlines purchase priorities, stipulating that the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act requires the Government to procure supplies or services from AbilityOne participating nonprofit agencies when available on the Procurement List.

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Chapter 51 of Title 41, specifies the regulations for the AbilityOne Program, overseen by the U.S. AbilityOne Commission. 41 CFR 51-5.2 mandates that nonprofit agencies designated by the Commission are mandatory sources of supply for all government entities.

Under the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation System (DFARS) Procedures, Guidance, and Information (PGI), the PGI at 207.105 emphasizes the inclusion of AbilityOne considerations in written acquisition plans.

5. When is it appropriate to award a contract under the AbilityOne Program?

Contract awards, or orders, can be made at any time following the effective date of the addition of an item to the Procurement List. This date is specified in the final Federal Register notice and in the notice of addition provided to the Contracting Activity.

6. What is the Procurement List?

The U.S. AbilityOne Commission maintains a Procurement List that catalogs products and services included in the AbilityOne Program, as referenced in FAR 8.002 and Subpart 8.7. Federal agencies are mandated to procure these supplies or services from designated nonprofit agencies at the prices established by the U.S. AbilityOne Commission, provided they are available within the stipulated timeframe.

7. Where can Federal customers find the Procurement List and what are some examples of available products and services?

The complete Procurement List can be accessed and downloaded from the U.S. AbilityOne Commission’s website at www.abilityone.gov. Additionally, many commonly used AbilityOne products are identified in both print and electronic catalogs of AbilityOne-authorized Federal and commercial distributors, including platforms like GSA Advantage!™, GSA Global Supply, FedMall, and www.abilityone.com.

A range of products is available, such as aircraft and vehicular equipment, clothing, food processing items, office supplies, environmentally friendly products, military-specific goods, and medical supplies. The program also offers various services, including contract management support, custodial, administrative services, document management, and more. A comprehensive list of AbilityOne Capabilities is available in Chapter 3.

8. How long does the Procurement List addition process take?

The time required to complete the addition of an item to the Procurement List can vary based on several factors. Typically, the process takes between six to twelve months to finalize once a product or service has been identified for possible addition. This period includes submission to the Commission, which takes 85-120 days, covering analysis, decision-making, and public notice and comment through Federal Register notices.

9. How do Federal customers order common-use products, such as office supplies, under the AbilityOne Program?

The AbilityOne Program has collaborated with the General Services Administration (GSA) to integrate AbilityOne products into the Federal Supply Schedules requirements for commercial distributors of office supplies and other commonly used items. These products can be conveniently accessed through catalogs of AbilityOne-authorized Federal and commercial distributors available at platforms like GSA Advantage!™, GSA Global Supply, FedMall, and www.abilityone.com.

10. What are the benefits of contracting under the AbilityOne Program?

Contracts under the AbilityOne Program offer Federal customers access to high-quality products from various distributors at reasonable prices, ensuring timely delivery. Additionally, AbilityOne service contracts provide a stable and dedicated workforce committed to delivering quality and customer satisfaction. These contracts foster long-term supplier relationships, eliminating the need for re-competition. Moreover, contracting with the AbilityOne Program facilitates meaningful employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, promoting independence and reducing reliance on government social programs.

11. Does AbilityOne support Small Business?

Yes, the AbilityOne Program actively collaborates with small businesses. Approximately 25% of subcontract dollars, totaling $217 million, were awarded to small businesses by a group of nonprofit agencies affiliated with the program. The program is dedicated to increasing collaborative opportunities with small businesses and includes around 250 small businesses in its commercial distribution network.

12. Where do National Industries for the Blind and SourceAmerica derive their responsibilities under the AbilityOne Program?

The U.S. AbilityOne Commission is authorized under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act to designate one or more “central nonprofit agencies” (CNAs) to assist nonprofit agencies serving individuals with disabilities in the AbilityOne Program. National Industries for the Blind (NIB) and SourceAmerica have been designated as CNAs to fulfill specific responsibilities, including evaluating nonprofit agency capabilities, offering technical assistance, and allocating government orders among them. NIB and SourceAmerica also provide various services to their associated agencies, encompassing compliance with the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act, training, regulatory assistance, and more.

13. Are Federal Government purchase card holders exempt from the mandatory source requirements of the AbilityOne Program for products? What if the purchase is at or below the micro-purchase threshold?

No, Federal employees, including purchase card holders, are not exempt from the universal requirement to procure AbilityOne products. The mandate to purchase from designated nonprofit agencies applies to any dollar amount. Purchase card holders can obtain AbilityOne products through various channels, including Base Supply Centers, AbilityOne Retail Stores, Internet sources, and catalog distribution channels. The program ensures access to these products across a range of purchasing thresholds.

14. Is there a conflict between utilizing the

Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI) Blanket Purchasing Agreements (BPAs) and purchasing from AbilityOne Base Supply Centers or AbilityOne Retail Stores?

No, there is no conflict. All these sources are obligated to provide office and general supplies in line with statutory requirements and the Procurement List. Therefore, purchasing office supplies from any of these channels helps fulfill agency needs and aligns with the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act. AbilityOne Base Supply Centers and Retail Stores are strategically placed for the expedient provision of products to Federal customers, with items stocked and readily available for pickup or delivery.

15. When are prices for AbilityOne Program products and services changed?

Prices for AbilityOne products and services are typically modified in tandem with the contract period. Base prices are primarily established through negotiations between the producing nonprofit agency and the contracting activity, assisted by NIB or SourceAmerica. The method for determining future prices is addressed during these negotiations.

16. How are protests, disputes, and appeals handled under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act?

Issues associated with daily contract performance should ideally be resolved at the contracting and nonprofit working levels, with NIB and SourceAmerica facilitating resolution. Contractual protests before or after award, as well as contractual disputes or appeals, fall under the purview of the Contracting Officer, guided by the Contracts Disputes Act. In cases where contractual provisions conflict with the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act or regulations, resolution should be sought through the Commission’s Impasse Resolution Process.

17. Can Federal employees recommend products and/or services for addition to the Procurement List?

Absolutely. The Code of Federal Regulations (41 CFR Part 51- 5.1(a)) encourages acquisition and procurement professionals to suggest products and services for government procurement through nonprofit agencies in the AbilityOne Program. Recommendations can be forwarded to the U.S. AbilityOne Commission, NIB, or SourceAmerica.

18. Are AbilityOne Program participating nonprofit agencies registered in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR)?

Yes, all nonprofit agencies participating in the AbilityOne Program are registered in the Central Contractor Registration (CCR), which serves as a central repository of companies and agencies engaged in, or seeking to engage in, business with the Federal Government.

19. How do Department of Defense prime contractors get credit for subcontracting with AbilityOne Program nonprofit agencies?

Department of Defense (DoD) prime contractors can receive credit toward their small business subcontracting goals when they subcontract with qualified nonprofit agencies in the AbilityOne Program. This authority is outlined in 10 U.S.C. 2410d.

20. Can solicitations include clauses that encourage subcontracting with AbilityOne?

Indeed, organizations can incorporate clauses encouraging subcontracting with AbilityOne in their solicitations. Below are examples of subcontracting clauses from the Air Force and NASA:

Air Force Example:
– The clause emphasizes the inclusion of AbilityOne utilization in proposals and requests that contractors meet or exceed a 3% AbilityOne usage.
– It also reserves the right for the Government to identify specific AbilityOne requirements in Request for Offers and outlines evaluation criteria based on AbilityOne participation.

NASA Example:
– The clause stipulates that at least 10% of the total labor dollars obligated against the contract shall be used for services provided by AbilityOne nonprofit agencies.
– It emphasizes that this requirement is a material part of the contract and that contractors should use their best efforts to meet or exceed the 10% goal.
– The clause outlines annual reporting requirements to monitor compliance.

Website link: https://www.abilityone.gov/

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