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Five Questions for the Secretary of Labor

Tomorrow Labor Secretary Thomas Perez will testify before the House Education and the Workforce Committee on the department’s budget and policy priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. This will be the secretary’s first appearance before the committee since his confirmation, so committee members are eager to discuss a broad range of topics and concerns. Here are five critical questions for the secretary that should help get the conversation started:
  1. Mr. Secretary, where are the jobs? More than 10 million Americans can’t find a job and 7 million are employed part-time but need full-time work. Just as disturbing, the labor force participation rate stands at just 63 percent, a grim sign millions have given up their job search entirely. There are a number of pressing priorities that would help create jobs and put people back to work. For example, the president could work with Congress to reform a broken job training system (see below). Or approve construction of the Keystone Pipeline. Or expand foreign markets for American-made goods. All efforts would enjoy bipartisan support and help get the country working again.
  2. What exactly is the president’s job training plan? In 2012 President Obama called on Congress to “cut through the maze of confusing [job] training programs” and establish one program to serve job-seekers. Yet recently the president requested more taxpayer money to fund six new programs. Meanwhile, Congress is still waiting for the president’s plan to clean up the maze of confusing programs. Fortunately the House has taken action on one plan that would streamline the bureaucracy, strengthen federal job training support, and help Americans compete for in-demand jobs. House Republican priorities for job training reform are clear. The administration’s priorities are not.
  3. Does the administration agree with labor leaders that ObamaCare is hurting workers? Once upon a time, the administration dismissed Republican concerns that ObamaCare would destroy full-time jobs as speculation. But it’s a lot harder for the administration to disregard the law’s critics now that they include allies in organized labor. Three prominent labor leaders wrote ObamaCare will “destroy the foundation of the 40 hour work week that is the backbone of the American middle class.” A resolution endorsed by the AFL-CIO warned the law is leading to “a new underclass of less-than-30 hour workers.” The House will soon consider legislation that would help address this problem. The president and his administration should support this important effort.
  4. Will Secretary Perez help Congress resolve the multiemployer pension crisis? For two years the House Education and the Workforce Committee has been examining the challenges facing the multiemployer pension system. A number of large plans are on the brink of insolvency and the federal agency that assists troubled plans is on a path to bankruptcy. Action is needed to protect employers, workers, retirees, and taxpayers. Leaders representing labor and management have coalesced around a broad package of reforms, and the committee is working on its own solution to this looming crisis. However, this important effort cannot succeed without support from the president and his administration.
  5. Can the committee expect less interference and more cooperation with congressional oversight? President Obama promised an era of unprecedented transparency, yet the challenge of receiving adequate responses to basic oversight requests appears unending. The labor department has routinely responded to committee inquiries late, insufficiently, and sometimes not at all. On one occasion, the department slipped under the committee’s front office door a CD containing oversight materials along with the password to access the materials. This mysterious drop occurred after business hours and on the eve of an oversight hearing. Let’s hope our new secretary instills in the department greater respect for congressional oversight.

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