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Staff Cuts Plague Job-Training Program, Study Finds

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Washington--Reductions in the federal staff administering the government's major job-training program have "shattered" the morale of the remaining employees, sacrificed expertise, and caused inefficiency and delays, the General Accounting Office has charged.

The loss since 1981 of nearly half of the staff in the Labor Department's Employment and Training Administration (eta) has also left state authorities with little guidance as to their responsibilities, thus stifling innovation, the Congressional investigative agency contends in a new report.

The problems are particularly troubling, state officials told the gao, because the Administration's new $3.6-billion training program calls on states to assume a complex new coordinating role with elaborate specifications that change previous job-training methods.

But the eta "may not have the expertise or staff necessary to develop the technical and complex performance standards required by the act," the report quotes one official as saying. It also quotes a state official as saying that "while the eta staff remaining after the [staff reductions] are well-meaning, they are not yet knowledgeable in their new roles."

The study was requested by Sena-tor Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. It focuses on problems within the eta, which administers the Job Training Partnership Act.

The survey, conducted in October 1984 and updated during February and March of this year, includes interviews with officials from the eta national office and the Labor Department's office of inspector general, eta officials in four regional offices, and jtpa officials in five states.

Four national organizations--the National Alliance of Business, the National Association of Counties, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the National Gov-ernors' Association--were also queried for the report.

Respondents at various levels claimed that "the morale at the eta has been shattered because of the continuing fear" of staff layoffs and downgrading of staff positions, the report said. And two association officials questioned said that "eta employees appeared to be more worried about keeping their jobs than they were about doing them," according to the report.

Concern about job losses has been heightened by the Labor Department's 1986 budget proposal to eliminate the Job Corps and reduce the staffs of three of the 10 regional offices, the report notes. The department is also requesting $230 million in rescissions for the current fiscal year, and an $800-million cut in the program in fiscal 1986.

Change in Emphasis

The reduction in staff stems partially from a change in the emphasis of the federal job-training effort. The jtpa, which replaced the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act in 1983, shifted many administrative and oversight functions to the states.

In 1981, the eta staff numbered 3,326--1,302 in the national office and 2,024 in the regional offices. In March 1983, the assistant secretary for eta testified before a Congressional committee that 2,000 employees were needed to carry out the agency's responsibilities, the report says, and eta requested 2,009 positions for fiscal 1984.

However, during that year, eta proposed that the staff be reduced to 1,824, the report adds, and "eta budget submissions for fiscal years 1985 and 1986 include further staff reductions." For fiscal 1985, the eta requested 1,764 positions, and for fiscal year 1986, 1,416 positions--848 for the national office and 568 for the regional offices.

The report also points out that retirements, transfers, and downgrades reduced the size of the staff even further, putting the actual size at 1,720 as of June 1984.

Push To Reduce

"For the most part, these reductions can be attributed to the Administration's 1981 push to reduce the size of federal operations, the phasing down of the former ceta program, the reduced federal role under jtpa," the report states.

To assess the impact of the staff reductions and changes, the gao compared staffing records for December 1983 and September 1984 for two eta offices.

The review, evaluation, and research and development office was reduced from 70 positions to 46 during that period, and 19 of the 46 staff members were new to that office. In the job-training programs office, the staff level had dropped from 156 to 126; 27 were new to the office; and of the 126 remaining after the staff reduction, 56 were available for retirement within five years.

Lack of Guidance

Concerns about program inefficiency and delay were expressed by all the responding officials of the national organizations and by most of the regional representatives, according to the gao The national organizations said they were "encountering difficulties and delays in obtaining reports, information, and answers from eta"

Officials also cited problems with policy guidance, which they said was insufficient and unreliable. The primary concerns of state jtpa officials were audits and the liability associated with any questioned costs, the report says.

"They are concerned that the program policies they established may be later questioned or challenged6during the audit and evaluation process. They felt that this could result in policies being formulated or revised based on the results of audits and evaluations," which could leave states responsible for any disallowed costs, the report notes.

These concerns have made some states "very cautious about trying innovative or creative job-training techniques as envisioned in the act; these concerns may inhibit the coordination of services between employment, training, and educational programs, which jtpa encourages," the report says.

eta Response

Dolores Battle, deputy administrator for the office of strategic planning and policy development in the eta, said the department is "still turning out an awful lot of work." Ms. Battle acknowledged that the staff reductions "were pretty bad for most people" and that "a lot of people had to learn new jobs and retrain themselves."

But she added, "things are turning around now."

Stronger Leadership

Kitty Higgins, minority staff director for the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, on which Senator Kennedy is the ranking Democrat, said the Congress did not envision "nearly as substantial a changeover in terms of the federal role in job training as the Administration chose to carry out."

In the swift transition from heavy federal involvement to "virtually none," she added, "a great deal of the impact has not been to make a leaner, tighter, better-directed agency, but to create one with tremendous morale problems."

Ms. Higgins said Senator Kennedy has discussed the federal role with Secretary of Labor William E. Brock and "expects to see changes in management of the department and agency."

She said the answer may not lie with more people, but with strong leadership to "articulate the appropriate federal role and provide policy direction to states."

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