A workforce investment reform bill introduced by U.S. Congresswoman Virginia Foxx passed the House of Representatives Friday by a narrow margin of 215 to 202 votes, with five Republicans and 10 Democrats abstaining.
“People in the 5th District are concerned about being unemployed,” said Foxx, whose constituents in N.C.’s northwest corner continue to see jobless figures well above the national average nearly four years after the official end of the recession. “People are looking to their government to help,” she said.
Known as the “Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act,” H.R. 803 “is all about reducing bureaucratic and red tape costs to ensure that limited taxpayer dollars spent on workforce development programs are efficiently helping job seekers become competitive for skills-based jobs,” according to Foxx’s press secretary, Ericka Perryman.
“Today, the federal government spends $18 billion a year to operate more than 50, often duplicative, workforce education programs,” said Perryman. “Local workforce boards and job seekers navigate a maze of programs and have to contend with one-size-fits-all requirements, such as requiring every job seeker to go through a resume writing workshop even if the job seeker doesn’t need that help.”
According to Perryman, the SKILLS Act will consolidate 35 programs, including 27 scrutinized by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The GAO finds that only five workforce development programs have been evaluated to determine whether they’re successfully helping workers, she said.
According to Foxx, a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the current system has an “86 percent failure rate,” while “we have 3.6 million jobs (nationwide) and we can’t find anybody to get into them.”
“Where there are government programs, they need to be efficient and effective,” she said, adding that the SKILLS Act did not cut any funding. “Consolidating programs will save millions in administrative costs, and serve more people.”
A former president of Mayland Community College in Spruce Pine, Foxx said community colleges do a great job of keeping education and job training relevant to local job markets, but that government programs have not done a good job coordinating with community colleges.
Authority and responsibility for local workforce development should have minimal bureaucratic oversight, she said. “We should put on the boards the people who are doing the hiring.”
“I’m proud of the bill,” said Foxx. “It took an enormous amount of work by my staff. Our hope is that this will provide better services for constituents.”
In a March 13 statement, the White House opposed the bill: “While H.R. 803 takes some positive steps…The bill would eliminate, or allow the consolidation of, many targeted programs, without providing the critical assistance needed by vulnerable populations such as veterans, low-income adults, youth, adults with literacy and English language needs, people with disabilities, ex-offenders, and others with significant barriers to employment. H.R. 803 would freeze funding for the next seven years and would fail to support efforts to innovate and replicate effective approaches.”
Critics of the SKILLS Act also point out its weak bipartisan support. Foxx said, “Both Democrats and Republicans have tried to reform (workforce investment),” she said, “this bill accomplishes what both parties have tried to achieve.”
The bill will now be considered by a Democrat-controlled Senate.