The United States Capitol
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By Claire Zillman
July 11, 2014

You might’ve missed it on Wednesday, but Congress took the rare step of actually passing a bill.

That, in and of itself, seems like good news, as does the piece of legislation that gained both chambers’ approval: The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act is geared at strengthening the nation’s workforce development system and putting Americans back to work.

In addition to improving the government-sponsored help available to out-of-work Americans, the bill also aims to change an aspect of federal jobs training that’s not so feel-good: its long history of overlap and waste.

“There’s longstanding bipartisan agreement that the current workforce development system is broken,” Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, one of the bill’s authors, said prior to the House’s vote on Wednesday.

A Government Accountability Office report from 2011 spotlighted just how mish-mashed government-funded jobs programs had become in the wake of the recession and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In fiscal year 2009, nine federal agencies spent approximately $18 billion to administer 47 programs that ranged from the broad—Community-Based Job Training Grants—to the niche—Native Hawaiian Career and Technical Education. “Nearly all programs track multiple outcome measures, but only five [of the 47 programs] have had an impact study completed since 2004 to assess whether outcomes resulted from the program and not some other cause,” the report said.

The bill that Congress passed on Wednesday reauthorized a jobs training law from the Clinton era. The 1998 legislation aimed to consolidate job training efforts by fostering closer coordination among the support programs. But when the GAO examined the system more than 10 years later, it found that “only a few employment and training programs [had] been consolidated.”

The latest bill will try to make up for that decade-and-a-half of inaction. It will eliminate 15 jobs training programs, some of which already lack funding, and it will introduce—wait for it—accountability to the federal jobs training system. It will establish a single system to measure every federal workforce program under the Act.

Representative Foxx was pleased with how her piece of legislation had shaped up: “This bill will increase access, eliminate waste, promote accountability, empower job creators, and give Americans access to the resources needed to fill in demand jobs.” Then she seemed to get caught up in all that bipartisan spirit. “Let this be the starting point for many other vital issues that need our attention. Working together we can get things done.”

If only.

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