Earlier today, the Trump Administration released a proposal to restructure the federal government that includes merging many of the functions currently handled by the Departments of Labor and Education into a single Department of Education and the Workforce. The proposal would also establish a standing Council on Public Assistance tasked in part with administering a “uniform work requirements” policy across several federal programs.
This proposal is unlikely to gain traction in Congress, as legislators have rejected earlier calls by the administration to both cut funding for critical workforce and education programming and to expand ineffective work requirements. However, it reflects the continued push from the administration to eliminate vital workforce and education programming and to implement detrimental and ineffective work requirements across safety net programs.
National Skills Coalition strongly opposes these efforts to expand work requirements, which have demonstrated little impact in increasing employment or reducing poverty but have led to reduced access to critical income supports for millions of low-income workers and their families. We also strongly oppose efforts to eliminate or consolidate federal workforce and education programs that have helped U.S. businesses and workers obtain the skills and credentials needed to succeed in today’s economy. We look forward to working with the Administration and Congressional leaders to support constructive and meaningful policies that invest in our nation’s greatest asset – our workforce.
Proposed Changes to Departments of Labor and Education
The proposal would merge the Departments of Labor and Education into the Department of Education and the Workforce, explicitly eliminating “overlapping” programming and funding sources.
The newly established Department of Education and the Workforce would be comprised of four subagencies:
The K-12 agency would move administration of the K-12 system from the Department of Education largely in the same form they are now. This agency would include the Offices of Elementary and Secondary Education and English Language Acquisition.
The American Workforce and Higher Education Administration would merge the functions currently administered by DOL’s Employment and Training Administration, Women’s Bureau, Veterans’ Employment & Training Services and Office of Disability Employment Policy with Ed’s Office of Postsecondary Education and Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education. Continuing the administration’s focus on apprenticeship, the proposal would also task this sub-agency with administering an Apprenticeship and Impact Fund. Under the proposal, this agency would be broken in to a series of “components”:
- Higher Education
- Disability Employment
- Adult Workforce Development
- Youth Workforce Development
- Veterans Employment Office
The Enforcement Agency would merge DOL’s current enforcement agencies including Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program, Office of Labor-Management Standards, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs and Wage & Hour Division with Ed’s Office of Civil Rights. Justification for this proposal relies on the fact that these divisions represent half of DOL’s workforce.
The Research, Evaluation and Administration Agency would merge current sub-agencies with evaluation and research components, including Ed’s Institute with Education Sciences. The proposal would move the Bureau of Labor Statistics to the Department of Commerce.
While National Skills Coalition agrees that federal workforce, education, and public assistance programs could be better aligned, we do not believe that this goal is furthered through wholesale consolidation and cuts to these programs. Congress has taken significant action to strengthen coordination of federal investments – most notably through the bipartisan passage of the the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014 – and states and other stakeholders have undertaken major updates to their workforce development strategies and policies to reflect this greater emphasis on alignment. The proposed reorganization provides limited details on funding levels for programs that would be retained and provides limited guidance on how the administration would be better positioned to coordinate programs and activities through the proposed consolidation process.
The administration has called for elimination of programming in their Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and 2019 budget requests and recent Executive Orders including those on apprenticeship and safety net programs. Funding for workforce and education is still far below historic levels and below the level of investment necessary to meet worker need or business demand, but Congress has largely rejected the administration’s attempts to cut these programs in the last two years and has actually increased funding for many workforce and education programs, reflecting the strong bipartisan support for these investments.
Proposed Changes to Safety Net Programming
The proposal would also consolidate U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the current administrator of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment & Training (E&T) program, into the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the current Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) administrator. The proposal would also create a new Council on Public Assistance to administer work requirement policy across a range of safety net programs, including SNAP, TANF and Medicaid.
This proposal continues the administration’s push for expanded work requirements in a number of federal policies, consistent with an Executive Order the President signed in April and proposals in both the FY 2018 and 2019 Presidential Budget Requests to reduce funding for these programs. The Senate Agriculture Committee rejected an expansion of SNAP work requirements in their bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Farm Bill, marked up just last week. While the House Farm bill would expand work requirements, it seems unlikely that any final Farm Bill will reflect this approach.