WASHINGTON, D.C. | June 7, 2012 -
Today we will consider H.R. 4297, the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012. The legislation makes long overdue changes to the Workforce Investment Act, which expired nearly a decade ago. I want to thank my colleagues for their work on this issue, including the sponsors of the legislation, Representatives Virginia Foxx, Buck McKeon, and Joe Heck.
In January, President Obama stood before the American people and urged Congress to “cut through the maze of confusing training programs” and establish “one program” for workers to find the help and skills they need. The president’s remarks were delivered months after this committee began sifting through the heap of federal programs that offer job training and employment assistance in an attempt to identify waste and inefficiency.
Through multiple oversight hearings, we learned the nation’s workforce development system is broken. Despite an annual taxpayer investment of $18 billion, workers still lack the skills necessary to find a job, and employers struggle to hire a skilled workforce. Nearly 13 million Americans are desperate for work despite an estimated 3.7 million job openings nationwide.
Buckley Brickman, executive director of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, called it “frustrating” for his home state to have hundreds of manufacturing jobs remain available at a time when so many workers are searching for a job. In Ohio, Lucas Hare, Economic Director for Canal Winchester said employers “need x, y, and z skills, and they can't find them." Similar stories have been told across the country.
Our workforce development leaders - at both the state and local levels - are no doubt attempting to do good things under difficult circumstances. However, as the Wall Street Journal recently noted: “A federal job training program that puts people back to work is hard to find.” With unemployment greater than 8 percent for 40 straight months and the national debt approaching $16 trillion, we have a responsibility to pursue a new course.
The Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012 embodies bold reforms that will better serve a 21st century workforce. The legislation eliminates more than 25 ineffective and redundant workforce development programs, instead empowering state and local leaders to assist workers and job seekers through a single, flexible Workforce Investment Fund.
The bill also provides governors with the opportunity to submit a responsible plan to consolidate more programs when such measures would better serve workers. Rather than impose a one-size-fits-all approach, as some have suggested, the legislation will encourage a wealth of unique and dynamic workforce training initiatives in cities and towns nationwide.
However, with this new flexibility comes responsibility. In no way does this legislation constitute a blank check. Unlike the current system in which only a handful of programs have been evaluated, H.R. 4297 establishes common performance measures that will make it easier for the public to learn whether programs are helping workers find a job, and those that demonstrate a pattern of failure will lose funding. Furthermore, states will be required to dedicate a portion of funding to serve those most vulnerable, such as disadvantaged youth and individuals with disabilities.
Despite all we’ve learned since the start of the 112th Congress, there are still those who wish to judge our success by the number of programs we create and the amount of taxpayer dollars we spend. More money to pay for new programs does not constitute reform; it merely doubles down on the failed policies of the past.
The Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012 maintains our current fiscal commitment to job training assistance while taking steps to ensure every dollar is spent more efficiently and effectively, which will lead to more workers served.
Today, we have a choice. We can either streamline a complicated web of job training programs – a step the president has asked Congress to take – or continue administering an inefficient system that stands between workers and the support they need.
We can either strengthen the role of employers and expand state and local decision-making, or cling to the false hope that Washington knows what’s best for millions of workers living in communities across the country.
We can either improve the system to ensure more money is spent on training, or overextend limited resources to fund more programs and bureaucracy.
We can take action to move our country in a better direction, or further delay the tough choices as more dismal economic news weighs down our nation.
It has taken time to examine the problem, identify the solutions, and receive the thoughts and expertise of those who live with the consequences of the policies we adopt. The jobs report released last Friday lends new urgency to the task before us. Now is the time to act.
I want to thank everyone for their patience and participation. I urge my colleagues to support the Workforce Investment Improvement Act of 2012, and advance the kind of job training reforms workers, employers, and taxpayers deserve.
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