This is an AbilityOne Champion
Director, Records, Publications & Mail Management
Department of Homeland Security Headquarters
It was a quiet day in the fall of 2001 and Karl Johnson was on his way home from
work when the U.S. Capitol Police called his cell phone and asked him to return to the
office as soon as possible. Johnson was responsible for the mail services contract at the
U.S. Capitol when anthrax was detected in a letter to Senator Tom Daschle. At the time,
there were few experts on mailroom anthrax contamination and Johnson had never faced
a situation like this before. With 22 years of Air Force experience, he was familiar with
biological weapons. Johnson had handled crises before, and drew from those skills to
handle this one.
“There was no rulebook or checklist for us to follow,” he remembered. “Teamwork
was really important. We had a lot of smart people coming together as a team.”
Over the next weeks and months, Johnson found a way to ensure the safety of his staff
while cooperating with crime investigators. The Center for Disease Control and the
Capitol Surgeon tested individuals who might have been exposed to the pathogen.
Johnson facilitated clear communication with the mail services staff while enabling a
highly secure investigation of the mailroom, which had been classified as a biohazard
crime scene. The investigation was a success.
Two years later, Karl Johnson was brought into the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) by Mike Dorsey, former DHS Chief Administrative Officer, to develop a mail
solution that would embrace new thinking and cutting edge technologies. One of the
contracts he was asked to manage was the consolidated mail services contract for the
Johnson grew up in a farming community in Minnesota and knew people with a
variety of disabilities. Johnson saw people with disabilities as excellent employees, and
convinced DHS leadership of the advantages of working with the AbilityOne Program.
He approached the contract as a win-win for both people with disabilities and the Federal
Johnson’s approach resulted in an eight-year DHS contract with AbilityOne. Johnson
initially created over 60 full-time-equivalent jobs for people with severe disabilities with
potential to expand to additional cities.
Throughout this process, Johnson remained an advocate of employing people with
disabilities. Johnson views the AbilityOne solution as getting the government the best
value while employing an under-utilized workforce.
“The employees on the AbilityOne contract are very reliable. Even when the office is
closed because of a snowstorm, the mail services staff will find an alternate way to come
to work. They take their commitment to this job very seriously,” stated Johnson.
Serious commitment is precisely what it took to get the DHS consolidated safe mail
program from a far-reaching concept to a 57,000-square-foot reality. Janet Samuelson is
president and CEO of ServiceSource Network, whose employees with disabilities form
the heart of the facility staff.
“One visit to the consolidated center in Capitol Heights and you know you’re
witnessing something vital to keeping DHS employees safe,” says Samuelson. “Our
employees with disabilities are immensely proud of their roles in that -- from mail
screener to messenger -- and a lot of credit is due Karl for having the vision and
doggedness to make it happen.”
Due to Johnson’s efforts, DHS is changing the way the U.S. government processes
mail. Ultimately, DHS’s model will serve as model for all government agencies.
“Karl Johnson has a remarkable level of commitment to creating meaningful jobs for
people with disabilities,” stated Christine Tyson Harrison, senior program manager,
NISH national business development. “His sustained vision of employing dependable
AbilityOne workers to provide cost-effective services is unparalleled. He is a true
“When you help someone with a disability get a job, you are not just helping one
person,” Johnson stated. “You are helping a whole group of people, including their
family and their community.”
Comments regarding AbilityOne Champion articles and nominations can be
addressed to Sarah Gray, marketing manager, NISH National, at firstname.lastname@example.org.