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August 16, 2011 / compassioninpolitics

How can we fix our job training programs in the US? How effective are our job training programs?

My search yielded unfortunate results. However, this isn’t a reason not to have job training programs, but rather significant a reason to fix the ones we have and to create a better dialog with employers (or one in which the federal government provides a range of the most in demand services or skills, and doesn’t focus on just X skill set). Reforming the efficiency of the programs means more people can be served for less money.

In a series of previously issued oversight reports, Senator John McCain and I reviewed billions of dollars of projects and presented hundreds of examples of mismanagement and questionable spending. This report looks at some of the worst examples of waste and fraud in government job training programs.
Without question, millions of Americans may need to learn new skills to succeed. Those looking to the federal government for such training, however, may be disappointed in what they find.

A newly released Government Accountability Office (GAO) report exposes a broken web of federal job training and employment programs. Nine federal agencies spent approximately $18 billion annually to administer 47 separate employment and job training programs. Many of the programs are duplicative, but GAO‘s most shocking revelation is that ―little is known about the effectiveness of most programs.‖3

Beyond the duplication and lack of demonstrable results, a glimpse into some of the federally funded job training programs reveals numerous examples of waste, mismanagement and even corruption. Some seeking job training, for example, spent their days sitting on a bus. High school students were knowingly exposed to the cancer causing agent asbestos as part of a job training program. Others were given training for jobs that didn‘t exist, or were paid to sit through educational sessions about jobs they already had. Funds were misspent to pay a contractor for ―ghost employees‖ and to purchase video games. Job training administrators spent federal funds on extravagant meals and bonuses for themselves. In one state, workforce agency employees took more than 100 gambling trips to casinos mostly during work hours. Elsewhere, a state employee steered federal job training funds to her son, a convicted criminal, who spent it on hotel stays, a $300 bar tab, cigars and pet care.

Taxpayers paying the cost of these programs and displaced Americans seeking their assistance deserve better than excessive duplication, a lack of demonstrable results, and outrageous examples waste, fraud, abuse and graft. Yet, Washington has done little to make the $18 billion job training maze work better. A glaring example of this neglect is the fact that Congress has failed to enact legislation updating the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the primary federal job training program, which expired in 2003. The lack of congressional action means the nation‘s job training system has not been updated to better serve workers and the taxpayers who continue to subsidize duplicative programs without measurable outcomes.

There is no question a highly skilled workforce is a key ingredient to getting the economy back on track and to being competitive in a global economy. But instead of creating more federal job training programs or increasing spending on the 47 that currently exist, Washington should consider a new approach to aiding those in need. Washington can encourage an economic environment that attracts and retains investment and productivity in the United States. This can be accomplished in part by reducing the national debt, opening foreign markets to U.S. goods and services, reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens on small businesses and employers, and ensuring stable and predictable government policies so employers can make short-and long-term investment and management decisions.
After all, employers know better than government bureaucrats what skills their employees need and how to best provide those skills.

I encourage taxpayers to carefully scrutinize the list of duplicative programs and examples of waste and mismanagement detailed by this report and then ask if these are common sense or efficient ways for the federal government to assist those out of work or seeking new opportunities.

Tom A. Coburn, M.D.
United States Senator, Oklahoma


Realize that many of the 25 cited examples fall around $10k, which doesn’t necessarily speak to major abuse (although about 10 to 15 are at the million dollar mark–none the less in an $18 billion program thats 2 or 3% of its budget). Don’t other federal programs have systemic ways to identify, administrate, prosecute, and otherwise deal with waste and corruption would could be transferred to these job training programs.

Nothing about job training programs should make corruption or waste intrinsic to their activities. This seems to be a failure to check the abuse of local officials or to provide real accountability in funding and administrating public policy. In fact, thats what they seem to actually be saying in their recommendations at the conclusion of the report.

I don’t know the “effectiveness” of the programs we are using now. However, 18 billion/$3,000 (which is about the cost of a year of community college) = 6 million. Even at $5000 per person (spending $1000 on counseling & coaching and $1000 on overhead) thats 3,600,000. Surely with those numbers they can do lots of training which improves incomes and business growth.

Plus, many workers could be trained for far cheaper than that. If the training cost is more than that, they should probably be getting financial aid or loans through our education programs. Alternatively, that money is likely currently going into administration ($40k to $80k per year per salary) and expensive real estate ($36,000+ per year assuming $3k per month) which on a per foot basis probably isn’t being used very effectively. I imagine one additional problem is that rural programs probably absorb a decent amount without gaining the advantages of scale one might have in larger cities (or in general cities in low demand have a similar problem). However, given the current state of the economy, this shouldn’t be a problem.

( Report PDF: )

Recent History: From Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) to Workforce Investment Act of 1998

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