WASHINGTON — A divided House on Friday passed Republican legislation that would end or consolidate dozens of duplicative job training programs with the objective of making it easier for people to gain the skills they need in a changing job market. The bill would also increase employers' influence in who gets job training grants.
While there is widespread agreement that federal job training programs are inefficient and overlapping, Democrats voted against the bill, saying they were locked out of the bill-writing process and that the bill would eliminate programs tailored to serve veterans, the disabled, ex-prisoners and other underserved populations. Democrats also said giving employers more power over programs came at the expense of unions, community colleges and other stakeholders.
The vote was 215-202, sending the bill to the Senate where the Democratic majority is likely to take a different approach to job training reform.
Republicans said though there are 12 million Americans looking for work, about 3.6 million job openings remain unfilled.
The bill amends and reauthorizes the 1998 Workforce Investment Act, or WIA, 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 offer services similar to those provided by other programs.
Under the current law, which has not been reauthorized since 2003, 51 percent of the investment boards must be composed of employers. The GOP bill would increase that percentage to two-thirds, rankling Democrats and labor groups who said this was an effort to diminish union ability to shape local programs.
Among programs being repealed under the bill are those targeted at veterans, Native Americans, ex-offenders, seasonal farmworkers and youths.
The bill also 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.