By Scott Ghiringhelli, NAVFAC HQ Public Affairs
WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Ray Bourgeois, associate counsel for land use with Headquarters, Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), spoke at Strategic Systems Programs' National Disability Employment Awareness Month event onboard Washington Navy Yard, Oct. 19.
The event was hosted by Capt. Doug Williams, Strategic Systems Programs technical director, and offered a presentation by Meena Farzanfar, the Department of the Navy's Disability program manager.
Bourgeois, who was recently honored at the 37th Annual Disability Awards, spoke about becoming an individual with a disability and the challenges he has faced both personally and professionally.
"You never know when the fickle finger of fate will reach out and poke you in the eye," Bourgeois mused.
Bourgeois suffered an incomplete spinal cord injury on Feb. 17, 2013 while snow tubing at a Pennsylvania resort leaving him quadriplegic with limited use of his hands, arms and legs. In addition to his determination to rehabilitate himself physically over the past four years, he has showed that same resolve to continue providing NAVFAC his specialize legal expertise. A retired lieutenant colonel who served for 23 years on active and reserve duty in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General's (JAG) corps, Bourgeois is the preeminent real estate and land use attorney in the Department of the Navy.
"I have not let my physical disabilities define or limit my contributions to the Office of the General Counsel and NAVFAC's Asset Management communities," said Bourgeois. "I take pride in my work and enjoy the day-to-day challenges it provides along with opportunities to excel each day."
NAVFAC and the Department of the Navy have provided physical and technological modifications to accommodate Bourgeois in the office, as well as allowing him to integrate his rehabilitation into his work schedule.
"I've received tremendous encouragement and support from my office colleagues and supervisors, leadership and members of Office of General Counsel and NAVFAC personnel to return to work in my specialized area of practice, which I enjoy tremendously," said Bourgeois. "Each day brings new and interesting challenges to support the missions of our NAVFAC, CNIC and war fighter clients. I am as determined today to add value to NAVFAC's land use work products as I did for 15 years before my injury."
That's not to say that Bourgeois' journey hasn't been without challenges. The voice recognition system that he uses for his computer has experienced some compatibility issues due to the Department of Defense security requirements for its network systems. But Bourgeois is grateful to have the support of his colleagues and others who are there to help him overcome these kinds of difficulties and work to resolve any issues that prevent him from working at full capacity.
Bourgeois has served in the Office of General Counsel, NAVFAC for more than 18 years. His work has been essential in resolving complex issues that allowed NAVFAC to effectively execute the mission of the Department of the Navy, such as developing a strategy and providing critical advice for the largest land acquisition in DoD history. He continues to mentor and provide professional development to attorneys throughout the Department of the Navy. During the event, employees of Strategic Systems Programs expressed their appreciation for Bourgeois' constant support to their organization.
"My job is really part of my mental rehabilitation," said Bourgeois.
Following Bourgeois, Farzanfar presented information about the Department of the Navy's Disability Program, changes to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, federal goals for employing people with disabilities, and the importance of accurate self-identification of disabilities to allow employers to request resources and plan for budgetary requirements.
In January of 2017, the EEOC issued an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act that would commit federal agencies to adopt the goal of having 12 percent of their workforce consist of people with disabilities, and 2 percent of their workforce consist of people with targeted disabilities, or those disabilities deemed to be more severe. The amendment also includes a provision for federal agencies to provide Personal Assistance Services as an affirmative employment obligation. Personal assistance services provide help with performing activities of daily living such as eating, which allows individuals like Bourgeois to function more effectively in the workplace and others who cannot participate in employment without personal assistance services to begin working.
Farzanfar stated that approximately 6 percent of Department of the Navy vacancy announcements posted on USAJobs.gov for the included the Schedule A(u) hiring authority, which allows for employers to hire candidates with disabilities noncompetitively. Farzanfar was quick to praise Strategic Systems Programs, recognizing that they are currently in the process of hiring an employee via the Schedule A(u) hiring authority in FY18, and that people with disabilities make up more than 11 percent of their workforce, nearly reaching the EEOC goal. The Department of the Navy is at 8 percent overall. It should be noted that the current percentages are based on statistics that rely almost entirely on self-reporting and that actual percentages are likely to be higher.
While the EEOC strives to improve opportunities for people with disabilities, those already working for the federal government, like Ray Bourgeois, continue to provide outstanding service and pursue personal and professional development.
Bourgeois speaks of his "dedication to getting out of [his] wheel chair" and having the ability to walk with a walker or cane on a full-time basis. He is currently able to walk a limited distance with a walker. In whatever capacity he is able to serve NAVFAC, his expertise and professionalism continue to be appreciated by his colleagues and NAVFAC leadership.
Of Bourgeois' recent award, Rear Adm. Bret J. Muilenburg, commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, and chief of Civil Engineers commented, "I'm very pleased to see your extraordinary efforts in support of NAVFAC, our Navy and Marine Corps, and our nation recognized by the Department of the Navy. Thank you for continuing to share your expertise with us."
"I've had no better job than I have now with NAVFAC," Bourgeois professed.
His accomplishments reflect the tremendous spirit and dedication with which he lives his life and serves his country.