By Gregory Korte, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — The federal government spends $18 billion a year on 47 separate job training programs run by nine different agencies.
All but three programs overlap with others to provide the same services to the same population, according to a government report to be released today.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that “little is known about the effectiveness” of the programs because half haven’t had a performance review since 2004 and only five have ever had a study to determine whether job seekers in the program do better than those who don’t participate.
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“Here’s just one example of how we’re spending $18 billion, and we don’t have any idea of whether it’s working or not,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who requested the report with Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. “This thing is so big and so out of control.”
Managing that patchwork of federal programs is a network of 575 business-led local workforce boards running 1,300 one-stop job centers.
Sherry Marshall, who runs one such agency in Cincinnati, answers to a 45-member board.
More than 20 board seats are required by various local governments, “and that’s before I put a single business member on the board,” she said. Last year, at least a half-dozen federal auditors from different agencies were at her office at one time to look at the same records.
The result is a system that can be bewildering to job seekers and the businesses that would hire them, she said.
“Some job seekers truthfully give up and go to work for McDonald’s,” Marshall said. “Most employers find it incredibly complicated. It’s mind-boggling to me, and this has been my profession for the last 12 years.”
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., walks to the Senate floor on Dec. 7., 2010. He and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo, requested a GAO report on the effectiveness of federal job training programs.
Streamlining overlapping programs is a priority of President Obama, who promised in his State of the Union speech last month to “merge, consolidate and reorganize the federal government” to make it more efficient.
“There are 12 different agencies that deal with exports,” Obama said, and “at least five different agencies that deal with housing policy.”
An overhaul of job training isn’t on the horizon, but Obama’s proposed budget last year would have cut five smaller programs, said Moira Mack, a spokeswoman for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. Congress never acted.
In a statement to USA TODAY, Assistant Secretary of Labor Jane Oates defended the system, saying “diverse elements and multiple suppliers” help local workforce boards tailor assistance to the needs of job seekers and businesses.
Different programs allow the Labor Department to serve veterans, dislocated workers, women, disabled workers, low-income youth, Native Americans and migrants, she said. The report was “a timely reminder that more work can be done” to reduce costs and improve efficiency, she said.
Other agencies take issue with the report:
” ‘Overlap’ is not the same as ‘duplication,’ ” Jim Esquea, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, told the GAO.