The White House Wants to Merge the Labor and Education Departments. It’s Not the First Time

Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos
FILE - In this June 13, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump, accompanied by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, left, waves to members of the media as he takes a tour of Waukesha County Technical College in Pewaukee, Wis. Democratic attorneys general in 18 states and the District of Columbia are suing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos over her decision to suspend rules meant to protect students from abuses by for-profit colleges. The lawsuit was filed Thursday, July 6, 2017, in federal court in Washington and demands implementation of borrower defense to repayment rules. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Andrew Harnik — AP

Proponents of shrinking the federal government may soon have a win on their hands: the White House is due to propose merging the Labor and Education departments on Thursday.

First reported by The Wall Street Journal, the plan follows a review of cabinet agencies, which also includes possible changes to the Department of Health and Human Services.

While a smaller federal government has long been a goal of conservatives, it is unclear how much of a measurable effect the merger would actually have. The Education Department is already one of the smallest government agencies, employing just 3,900 people, and its workforce has shrunk by more than 10% since President Trump took office.

The Labor Department, meanwhile, employs about 15,000 people. The two departments already work quite closely. With the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in 2014, the two departments coordinate on training. But the actual savings associated with their merger could be minimal.

Seth Harris, who served as deputy labor secretary under President Obama, told the WSJ that the merger is a “solution in search of a problem.” He explained that while it would cut the salary for one cabinet secretary, there likely wouldn’t be any further savings “if the new department has the same mandates and programs the two need to carry out.”

Savings aside, there is some doubt that the merger will happen in the near term. The proposal would need to be approved by Congress, and with midterms only months away, politicians may be wary of such a large undertaking.

What’s more, this is not the first time such a merger has been proposed. Under the Clinton administration Republicans proposed merging the two departments, along with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), under one umbrella, called the Department of Education and Employment. According to the WSJ, the Government Accountability Office anticipated that such an agency would employ 25,000 people and require a budget of $71 billion—well above the current size of the combined Labor and Education departments today.

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