WASHINGTON, D.C. | April 17, 2012
Today, we will examine H.R. 4297, the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012. The legislation will provide a more dynamic, effective, and accountable workforce development system. I would like to thank our witnesses for being with us. I also want to extend my appreciation to Representatives Virginia Foxx, Buck McKeon, and Joe Heck for their continued leadership on this important issue.
The committee has spent over a year examining the nation’s workforce development system. We held four hearings and listened as more than a dozen witnesses described the successes and weaknesses in a system designed to provide job training and employment assistance for America’s workers.
Through these hearings, we have learned an expansive network of competing programs operated by numerous federal agencies is failing to meet the needs of our workforce. Despite an effort to establish a unified workforce development system 14 years ago, employers and state and local leaders still grapple with a bureaucracy that squanders taxpayer resources, stifles innovation, and stands in the way of the help and training workers need.
The problems within the current system are staggering. Each program has a separate set of rules, reporting requirements, and performance measures. Local leaders operate under 19 federal mandates that dictate who can serve on a workforce investment board. Even if it’s in their best interest, workers can be denied immediate access to job training assistance. And even though thousands of One Stop Career Centers are spread across the country, some services are located in places chosen during the 1970s that are inconvenient – if not completely inaccessible for today’s workers.
These systemic flaws help explain why 3.5 million jobs are unfilled, despite the roughly 13 million Americans still searching for work. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently issued a news report entitled, “Manufacturing jobs available but skills rare, exec says.” Similar reports have appeared in places like Macon, Georgia; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Green Bay, Wisconsin. Workers are needed in fields from truck driving to software development to nursing, but employers face a serious lack of skilled applicants.
We are spending taxpayer dollars on red tape and bureaucracy, instead of the skills and training workers need to succeed. During his State of the Union address, President Obama recognized the need to “cut through the maze of confusing programs” and expressed his desire for one program for unemployed workers. Yet still we see plans for more programs and hear calls to defend a fundamentally broken system. Simply doubling down on the status quo ignores the problems at hand and is a disservice to workers, employers, and taxpayers.
The recent slowdown in hiring reflected in this month’s jobs report demonstrates how urgently we need to move in a new direction. The Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012 embodies the smart, responsible reforms that are critical in a modern job training system. The bill consolidates 27 programs into one flexible Workforce Investment Fund. If a governor can present a responsible plan to consolidate additional job training programs, he or she is welcome to do so. This will allow us to move closer toward the president’s goal of one program and provide more efficient employment and training services to workers.
The legislation also rolls back unnecessary rules and strengthens the role of job creators in workforce training decisions. H.R. 4297 requires two-thirds of workforce investment board members be employers, helping ensure the skills and training offered to workers matches the needs of businesses. The bill grants state and local officials authority over filling the remaining slots on the board. If individuals from labor unions, community colleges, and youth organizations offer the best voice to represent the local workforce, they can have a seat at the table.
Furthermore, the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012 ensures accountability without burying state and local officials in reams of paperwork. Under the bill, states would be required to adopt a common set of performance measures to judge the success of all programs, and the Department of Labor would be required to conduct an independent evaluation of its programs every five years. Workers will learn whether these programs are effective and taxpayers will know whether their money is being well spent.
There are other positive reforms in the legislation, such as providing dedicated funds to assist at-risk youth and individuals facing difficult barriers to employment. No doubt other issues will be raised throughout the hearing. I expect we will also address a proposal introduced by my Democrat colleagues, one that offers their priorities for reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act. Both sides recognize the challenges plaguing the current system and the need for improvement. Ultimately, we have a responsibility to advance reforms that will help Americans receive the skills and training they need to get back to work.
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