The federal government spends billions each year on job training programs. However, these programs are ineffective and waste billions on duplicative administrative expenses.
A 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation found:
For fiscal year 2009, we identified 47 employment and training programs administered across nine agencies. Together, these programs spent approximately $18 billion on employment and training services in fiscal year 2009.…
Almost all federal employment and training programs, including those with broader missions such as multipurpose block grants, overlap with at least one other program in that they provide similar services to similar populations.
The GAO further found that 34 of 37 programs targeting assistance at a primary population (such as youth or the unemployed) overlap with at least one other program. Worse, these programs do not appear to be helping workers:
[W]e determined that only 5 of the 47 programs have had impact studies that assess whether the program is responsible for improved employment outcomes. The five impact studies generally found that the effects of participation were not consistent across programs, with only some demonstrating positive impacts that tended to be small, inconclusive, or restricted to short-term impacts.
Too many tax dollars appropriated for job training expenses are wasted on (often duplicative) overhead instead. A 2012 report commissioned by Senator Tom Coburn (R–OK) found an Oklahoma Jobs Corps Center employing 2.3 people for each young worker it trained. Elsewhere, one Oklahoma Workforce Investment Board spent just one-seventh of its budget on direct client services (such as job training). The rest was sucked up by administration and other expenses. Small wonder federal job training programs show such poor results.
Representative Virginia Foxx (R–NC) has introduced legislation to fix these programs. The House Education and Workforce Committee is scheduled to consider her bill, H.R. 803 — the Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act — on Wednesday.
The legislation consolidates 35 federal job training programs into one workforce investment fund that states would administer. It would further require the Office of Management and Budget to reduce the federal workforce by the number of employees currently administering the eliminated programs—redirecting resources from employing bureaucrats to training workers. And it would require local boards to designate the amount of resources to be spent directly on training.
The SKILLS Act could do more to require studies of program effectiveness. The Department of Labor has a history of not investigating whether its programs work.
Nonetheless, the policies the bill proposes would help fix the current system. The SKILLS Act redirects job training funds from the bureaucracy to their intended beneficiaries. It is not perfect, but it would meaningfully improve America’s job training programs.