After an election focused heavily on jobs, the House is poised to move quickly on a long-stalled overhaul of federal job-training programs. But hope for finally breaking through the gridlock appears to hinge on bipartisan negotiations quietly under way in the Senate.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that the 1998 Workforce Investment Act, which expired in 2003, needs updating. Pressure to reauthorize the law mounted after a 2011 Government Accountability Office analysis found that many of the 47 federal job-training programs overlap in some way.
“The U.S. government job-training programs are a little bit of a mess,” said Aspen Gorry, a labor research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “There are nine agencies and many, many overlapping programs. But I’m less concerned that there are many different programs than I am that it’s uncoordinated through many different agencies.”
That problem, he said, is complicated by the fact that little is known about the effectiveness of government job-training programs, because they often aren’t structured in a way that allows policymakers to track data. Typically the only thing that is tracked is whether a participant enters the workforce.
“That won’t give you a good scientific way to tell you whether the program is effective or not,” Gorry said. “If you got trained in ‘X’ task, did you get a job in ‘X’ task? Or did you just re-enter the labor force?”
Committees in both chambers began work on the legislation during the 112th Congress, and now the same cast of characters is again picking up the effort.
The House Education and the Workforce Committee is moving toward passage this month of a Republican proposal that will likely renew the partisan standoff that bogged down the issue in the previous Congress. At the same time, Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., are negotiating behind the scenes on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.House Favors State Block Grant
In the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has cited the job-training legislation as a top priority several times since the November elections.
“Federal job-training programs ought to make it easier for Americans who are out of work or who are changing careers to get the skills they need,” Cantor said Tuesday in a speech outlining his agenda. “Yet today, the federal government has a patchwork of over 47 different overlapping programs that are not dynamic or innovative enough to meet the needs of employers or potential employees. We can fix this, and we should be able to muster bipartisan support to do so.”