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Foxx Statement: Hearing on "Putting America Back to Work: Reforming the Nation's Workforce Investment System"

We begin the new Congress addressing a familiar challenge. Over the last two years, the committee has taken a close look at the realities of a broken workforce development system.

Just yesterday, North Carolina’s Greensboro News & Record drew attention to the problem of potentially thousands of well-paying manufacturing, construction, engineering, and nursing jobs sitting vacant in my state because there is a shortage of qualified applicants.

Employers from across the country are reporting the same: that there are jobs available, but not enough skilled workers to fill them. Individuals desperate for work but in need of additional learning to compete for these jobs must first navigate a maze of rules and programs before they can access the skills and education they need.

Meanwhile, the hands of state and local officials are tied by excessive mandates and red tape. In an economy that is constantly changing, the federal government has made it more difficult for workforce investment leaders to address the priorities of their communities.

Finally, taxpayer dollars are supporting too many bureaucrats and not enough workers. The federal government now spends $18 billion a year on myriad employment and training services, yet it can’t tell the American people whether they are earning a good return on their investment.

To illustrate the size of the problem, the poster to my left represents our current workforce development system – more than fifty programs spread across nine federal agencies. Caught in the center of this mess is a worker who has lost his or her job. This individual is eager to learn a new skill or trade, and is even more eager to return to work.

If this worker manages to navigate the workforce development system, data shows it is unlikely they will complete their program or access the tools actually needed to get a job in their community. Nearly two millions individuals participated in some form of service authorized under the Workforce Investment Act, but only 14 percent finished the instruction. Less than half of those who received employment assistance such as job searches and resume writing were able to find work. With such a hefty price tag, we must demand better results on behalf of those seeking jobs and the taxpayers footing the bill for this federal maze.

Today’s workforce development system is failing workers, employers, and taxpayers. Instead of a dynamic network of employment support, we have a massive bureaucracy that stifles innovation and wastes resources. As a result, employers cannot hire a skilled workforce, workers are stranded in unemployment, and our ability to grow and prosper as a nation is diminished.

The need to fundamentally change the status quo has never been greater. President Obama said last year that it was “time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system.” That is precisely what the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills Act will do.

The first step toward an effective workforce development system is to rein in the federal bureaucracy. The SKILLS Act eliminates and streamlines dozens of ineffective and duplicative programs. The bill replaces these programs with a new Workforce Investment Fund, providing states a more efficient resource to deliver the support their workforce needs.

The president has urged Congress to cut through the maze of confusing programs and create one program for individuals to find the help they need. Republicans support that effort, and in fact, the SKILLS Act is the only proposal that moves us toward the president’s goal.

While streamlining the federal role is important, we must also empower our job creators, state leaders, and local officials. Doing so means changing the way workforce investment boards operate. These boards are responsible for policies and oversight of employment and training services, yet the federal government dictates who must serve on the boards. 

The SKILLS Act increases the number of employer representatives and allows state and local leaders to determine the rest. Despite some critics’ claims, the legislation does not prohibit any stakeholder – including unions – from serving on a workforce investment board. However, Washington will no longer be in the business of picking winners and losers. It is up to state and local officials to decide who best represents their communities.

These are just some of the positive reforms in the SKILLS Act. I expect we will discuss others throughout the hearing, including how the bill encourages greater collaboration with community colleges and promotes accountability over the use of taxpayer dollars.

No doubt we will also have a lively debate. I welcome that debate and also welcome the opportunity to advance commonsense reforms that will fix a broken workforce development system and serve the best interests of our country. It is time to be bold with how we prepare today’s workers to compete and succeed in this new economy.


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