Congressional Panel Weighs Potential Impact of Merging Federal Job-Training Programs

May 11, 2011 | The Chronicle of Higher Education |  Link to article

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training held a hearing on Wednesday to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of consolidating federal job-training programs.

Concern about replication stems from a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, which found that 44 of the 47 federally administered job-training programs overlap with at least one other program. Training programs cost $18-billion in fiscal year 2009, according to the report. Some, though not all, of that money goes to colleges, including through programs authorized by the Workforce Investment Act.

The duplication could be a source of "significant waste," said Rep. Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina and the chairwoman of the subcommittee. "A comprehensive review to identify ways we can reduce costs, consolidate programs, and improve services is vital."

Andrew Sherrill, the author of the report and a witness at the hearing, recommended a one-stop-shop approach that would merge job-training services and staff. He cited a merger in Utah that reduced the number of buildings that housed training programs from 104 to 34 and allowed the state to cluster its services for more "seamless service delivery."

Witnesses from Texas and Florida also advocated for consolidation, pointing to mergers in their own states that have led to more efficient management of job-training programs.

Evelyn Ganzglass, director of work-force development at the Center for Law and Social Policy, voiced concern that consolidation could cut valuable programs; although some overlap, they aren't necessarily duplicating services, she said.

"Out in the field, these programs really are working together," Ms. Ganzglass said. "You have to look at the contribution of all of them working together, and we haven't had those kinds of evaluations."

But other witnesses said the lack of a centralized federal program creates confusion and extra work for states.

"The biggest problem that we have is just working through all of the red tape for approvals and reports that just take a lot of staff time," said Larry Temple, executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission. "The administrative dollars represented in all this paperwork could certainly be spent better."

Even if programs are cut, representatives on the committee were divided about how to use the savings.

"While my colleagues on the other side of the aisle ... argue that any savings should be applied to the deficit," said Rep. Ruben E. Hinojosa, a Democrat from Texas, "I strongly believe that these resources should be reinvested into our public work force and adult-education system."

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