Put the Ineffective Department of Labor Job-Training Programs on the Chopping Block

David Muhlhausen /

House Republicans are attempting to live up to their pledge to cut $100 billion from the federal government’s current fiscal year 2011 budget. One of the funding categories being placed on the chopping block are the employment and training services run by the Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration (ETA) which provides a host of Workforce Investment Act (WIA) job-training programs and other employment services. Compared to President Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget request, the plan is to cut $2.8 billion from programs that, according to a January 2011 report by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO), have little evidence of effectiveness.

The ETA has a history of operating ineffective job-training programs. The predecessor of WIA was the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA). A national impact evaluation of JTPA programs that used the scientifically rigorous method of random assignment found the programs to be largely ineffective.  For example, JTPA programs failed to raise the hourly wages of adult participants.

In the 1998 WIA Act, Congress mandated that the Labor Department conduct a multi-site impact evaluation of WIA by September, 2005, using random assignment and control groups to assure an accurate measurement of WIA’s effects.  After the devastating results of the JTPA evaluation, the Department of Labor abdicated its role in performing randomized experiments with control groups to access the impact of WIA programs. According to a 2009 report by the GAO,

“little is known about what the workforce system is achieving. Labor has not made such research a priority and, consequently, is not well positioned to help workers or policymakers understand which employment and training approaches work best. Knowing what works and for whom is key to making the system work effectively and efficiently. Moreover, in failing to adequately evaluate its discretionary grant programs, Labor missed an opportunity to understand how the current structure of the workforce system could be modified to enhance services for growing sectors, to encourage strategic partnerships, and to encourage regional strategies.”

Over 12 years later, the Department of Labor is just getting around to planning the mandated impact evaluation using random assignment. The excessive delay in performing congressional mandated impact evaluation of WIAs, suggests that even officials within the Department of Labor do not have faith that their job-training programs work. This lack of research effort has left ETA without compelling evidence that WIA programs work and are not a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Employment and training programs, not just WIA programs that do not have scientifically rigorous evidence of effectiveness should be put on the budget chopping block.