Cliff Owen, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — A House Republican plan to make it easier for job seekers to learn skills by consolidating dozens of sometimes redundant job training programs is meeting resistance from Democrats who say it could leave some without critical assistance.
The House on Friday was expected to pass what Republicans call the SKILLS Act on a mainly party-line vote. It would then head for the Senate, where the Democratic majority would likely take a different approach to the issue.
There's widespread agreement that the current federal job training system is inefficient, with too many agencies involved and too many overlapping programs. President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address last year, said he wanted to "cut through the maze of confusing training programs" so people have a direct path to the help they require.
But the House bill has drawn strong opposition from the White House and angered Democrats who claim they were denied a role in writing the bill. Democrats, who will propose their own version of job training reform Friday, walked out of an Education and the Workforce Committee meeting last week when Republicans were voting to send the bill to the full House.
The GOP bill eliminates or consolidates 35 federal programs and creates a Workforce Investment Fund that would act as a single conduit of support for employers and job seekers. The White House, in a statement, said some of those shuttered programs are important for the most vulnerable would-be workers, including veterans, youth, those without proficiency in English, the disabled and ex-prisoners.
The bill amends and reauthorizes the 1998 Workforce Investment Act, which set up business-led workforce investment boards around the country to determine local job-training needs and sought to establish one-stop career centers to assist those wanting information or training.
But the Government Accountability Office said in a 2011 report that nine federal agencies were spending about $18 billion a year to administer 47 training programs — not all under the WIA jurisdiction — and that almost all of these programs were offering services similar to those provided by other programs.
Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., cited a study finding that in 2011, some 1.8 million people left three of the larger WIA programs serving adult workers, dislocated workers and youth, and that only 250,000 of those, 14 percent, completed the training.
Among programs being repealed under the bill are those targeted at veterans, Native Americans, ex-offenders, seasonal farmworkers and youth.
The SKILLS Act — the name stands for Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills — also ensures that two-thirds of the members on the local workforce investment boards are employers, up from the current half, and gives more power to governors to decide on the location of programs in their states and further consolidate programs. It freezes current spending for the act at about $6 billion a year for the next seven years.
The bill "encourages these programs to focus on in-demand jobs in industries so that participants will be able to succeed in the workplace upon completion and ensures that funds are spent directly on services rather than administration of bureaucrats," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.
Democrats and labor groups objected to giving employers two-thirds majorities on the boards, saying that would silence the voices of unions, community colleges and others representing special interests.
The AFL-CIO and other labor groups, in a letter to Kline, also warned that combining funding streams into a single Workforce Investment Fund would make programs more vulnerable to funding cuts and gives states more discretion to pick participants according to the ideological predispositions of their governors.