- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

House Republicans may be suing President Obama for executive overreach, but for one day at least, members of the GOP joined the president at the White House Tuesday as the administration announced a sweeping overhaul of the federal government’s job-training programs.

Through executive actions and new legislation that passed both chambers of Congress with broad bipartisan support, Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden said they intend to dramatically remake the government’s job-training efforts, streamlining services and updating specific initiatives to better prepare Americans for 21st century jobs.

Mr. Obama, eager to play up a moment of true bipartisanship, said neither party should seek to score political points but instead should be thankful the unemployed or those looking for a better job may now have an easier path to travel.

“This is not a win for Democrats or Republicans. It is a win for American workers,” he said. “It’s a win for the middle class, and it’s a win for everybody who is fighting to earn their way into the middle class.”

To change workforce training programs that virtually all stakeholders believe are in desperate need of updating, the president signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The legislation eliminates 15 redundant training programs, offers states and cities much greater flexibility in how they use billions of dollars in federal training funds, and establishes “performance indicators” to gauge how well specific programs are working.

On a parallel track, Mr. Obama said he’ll use his executive authority to implement additional changes to workforce training efforts — changes specifically recommended by Mr. Biden after a six-month review of the programs.

Those steps will include adjustments to how federal grants are awarded. In the future, federal agencies will award grants only to programs geared toward specific job fields.

All federally funded training programs also will be required to make public how many graduates find jobs and how much they earn annually, Mr. Obama said.

The White House also will make available $100 million in new apprenticeship grants and direct the Education Department to allow the awarding of college or technical school degrees based on demonstrated skills, not just time spent in the classroom.

Republicans largely avoided discussing Mr. Obama’s executive steps and instead highlighted the new law and the flexibility they said it will offer states and localities in designing their own worker training programs.

“It goes directly to the issue that most Americans care about — it’s too hard to find a job,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Republican, on the Senate floor just before Mr. Obama signed the bill. “What this showed is that Republicans and Democrats were able to take the nearly $10 billion that we spend to give governors the tools to help people match job skills with their need for a job.”

Mr. Alexander is his party’s ranking member on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and is facing a challenge from a tea party rival in next month’s Tennessee Republican primary.

The business community, eager to find trained, highly skilled employees to fill open jobs, lauded the efforts.

“Business leaders welcome the administration’s commitment to preparing Americans for the workforce,” said John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable and former Republican governor of Michigan. “We want to create more economic prosperity for Americans. A comprehensive approach to better connect business with education and job training is desperately needed. This is a national priority.”

Job-training programs spread across the federal bureaucracy have long been criticized for redundancy and a lack of coordination. One Government Accountability Office study three years ago found significant overlap among dozens of training programs operated by nine different agencies.

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