WASHINGTON, D.C. | March 6, 2013
Today the committee will consider H.R. 803, the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills Act. This important legislation will strengthen the workforce investment system, help put Americans back to work, and make our nation more competitive in the 21st century.
Through the committee’s oversight, we’ve become very familiar with the challenges plaguing the current job training system. A maze of programs has fostered an unmanageable bureaucracy. Federal mandates stifle the engagement and innovation of those closest to the workforce – job creators, state leaders, and local officials. Onerous rules prevent workers from accessing the training they need when they need it. And a lot of taxpayer money is being spent with little accountability.
These problems have been discussed extensively. Over the past two years alone, multiple hearings and dozens of witnesses have revealed in detail the flaws that need to be addressed and the solutions that would deliver more effective employment support. As this important process unfolded, the need for reform has grown more urgent.
Today more than 12 million Americans are searching for work. Five million of these unemployed workers have been without a job for six months or longer. Meanwhile, the number of job openings left unfilled has climbed to 3.6 million since 2011. In that same time period, the national debt has also increased from $14 trillion to almost $17 trillion.
Each day we delay job training reform we ensure more taxpayer dollars are wasted on failed programs and bloated bureaucracy. Each day we delay reform we deny state and local leaders the maximum flexibility they need to better serve employers and workers. Each day we delay reform is one more day workers are left stranded in unemployment.
We can no longer afford to postpone job training reform. President Obama has urged us to turn the “unemployment system into a reemployment system.” That is precisely what we aim to do and the SKILLS Act helps us reach our goal.
The first step is to clean up the bureaucratic mess that exists today. The SKILLS Act eliminates and streamlines 35 duplicative and ineffective programs. Instead of a maze of confusing training programs, the legislation creates a flexible Workforce Investment Fund. Critics have claimed it creates a one-size-fits-all approach, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Establishing a single source of support will lift a crushing burden off the backs of workforce investment leaders. More than 50 programs currently exist, each with its own set of rules and reporting requirements. Filing endless paperwork and checking administrative boxes represents time and money invested in bureaucracy, not workers.
States such as Florida and Texas are models of this commonsense approach. Not only has streamlining programs promoted better use of taxpayer dollars, it has also encouraged a more dynamic network of training and employment support that can easily respond to the evolving demands of local employers and workers. It is time we followed their example.
The next step is to enhance the role of job creators, as well as state and local leaders. They know best the training and education needed in their communities and workplaces, yet federal mandates make it practically impossible for their voices to be heard. The SKILLS Act increases the employer majority on workforce investment boards to two-thirds, and empowers state and local leaders to decide the rest. Doing so will help ensure the skills and training workers receive is relevant for in-demand jobs.
Finally, reform must provide real accountability over the use of taxpayer dollars. The SKILLS Act requires all employment and training services to achieve a common set of performance measures, and the Secretary of Labor must evaluate each program once every five years. If a program demonstrates a pattern of failure then taxpayers will know about it. The days of wasting money on failed programs must end.
These basic principles serve as the framework for the legislation before us. However, there are other positive reforms in the SKILLS Act that I hope to discuss during today’s meeting and as the debate unfolds. There is a great deal of the legislative process still before us, which is why it is important we act today. Moving this discussion behind closed doors and further delaying reform is not an option. It is time to move forward.