House Panel Approves Job-Training Bill for Defense Industries
Washington--Members of the House Subcommittee on Economic Stabilization last week approved a bill, introduced earlier this year, that would authorize $1.25 billion to assist state vocational-education agencies in developing job-training programs for defense-related industries with critical manpower shortages.
The subcommittee, headed by Representative James J. Blanchard, Democrat of Michigan, voted on March 24 to send the bill to the House Committee on Banking, Finance, and Urban Affairs. Representative Blanchard and Representative Stewart B. McKinney, Republican of Connecticut, introduced the measure on Feb. 10.
The bill, entitled the "Defense Industrial Base Revitalization Act,'' would re-extend through 1987 the Defense Production Act of 1950, which will expire on Sept. 30. Under key provisions of the proposed legislation, state vocational-education programs would be eligible for $250
million per year over a five-year period to train workers for defense industries.
During last week's hearing, subcommittee members agreed to several amendments to the reauthorizing legislation, but resisted an attempt by Representative Stanley N. Lundine, Democrat of New York, to remove "state boards of vocational education" as the agencies designated to administer the grants.
In offering the amendment to the bill, Representative Lundine said he did not want state vocational-education agencies to be in a "monopoly position" and urged that defense industries, unions, and business enterprises be authorized to receive grants.
While conceding that in some states the training grants "shouldn't be spread around but concentrated in one area," he said "the state bureaucracy may not be the best determiner of skill-training" needs.
As a compromise, subcommittee members agreed to amend the bill to include the state boards of vocational education or "other agencies designated by the state." This would allow governors to determine which state agency is best able to administer the skill-training grants, according to Representative McKinney.
The subcommittee also approved an amendment offered by Representative Lundine that would prohibit state agencies from keeping more than 5 percent of the training money for administrative expenses.
Gene Bottoms, executive director of the American Vocational Association (ava), said the 5-percent ceiling on administrative costs "seems reasonable," but added that it could cause a problem in some states with defense industries that have a demand for highly technical specializations.
He said the electronic fields, for example, have fewer students enrolled and require greater teacher-recruitment efforts and therefore may represent a greater administrative expense in some states.
Mr. Bottoms, a strong supporter of the bill, was among more than 125 witnesses who offered testimony on skilled-worker shortages during hearings conducted by the subcommittee last summer. The proposed measure, the result of that testimony, has sparked considerable interest because of the Reagan Administration's plan to strengthen military capacity and because of the problems that a shortage of skilled workers could pose for defense-related industries.
The current Defense Production Act has been used during wartime and other national emergencies to provide worker training to strengthen the defense industry, but in recent years Presidents have seldom invoked the law. Under the proposed bill, the President would be "directed" to fund such programs.
During the recent subcommittee hearing, Representative Blanchard said the bill could be submitted for consideration by the full House as early as May 15.