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Congress, Martin Resurrect Proposals To Revamp Federal Job-Training Act

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Copyright 1991 Washington--The Congress last week began a new round of work on legislation amending the Job Training Partnership Act by resurrecting suggestions that the program focus more on providing basic-education skills and serving the most disadvantaged youths and adults.

A two-year effort to pass significant amendments to the J.T.P.A. died last fall when House and Senate lawmakers were unable to reconcile their separate plans.

Bush Administration officials are ready to begin the effort anew with much the same direction, Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin indicated in testimony before a House panel last week.

"A broad, bipartisan consensus has emerged on the changes we need to make," Ms. Martin told the Employment Opportunities Subcommittee. "We must act quickly to revitalize J.T.P.A., elevate it to a higher standard of excellence, and enhance the integrity of the program."

An aide to the panel's chairman, Representative Carl C. Perkins, Democrat of Kentucky, said Mr. Perkins planned to introduce a bill following another hearing this month and hoped that this year's debate would not be marred by the struggles that led to last year's standoff.

"We want to build off that," said Omer E. Waddles, the subcommittee's staff director. "A lot of battles were fought last year, and we don't want to go through that again."

Most of the controversy last year centered around the program's fund4ing formula. But those involved in the legislation appear to have reached a consensus that the job-training program, which has long been accused of enrolling mainly the best-prepared job seekers, should begin focusing on needier youths and adults.

The new focus would require more intensive services, including remediation and basic-skills instruction for dropouts and unskilled adults. In designing such programs last year, lawmakers provided that school officials assist in establishing education offerings, planning entrance assessments, and outlining individual education and job-training plans for jtpa participants.

In addition to the increased education services, the Labor Department proposal also would:

Tighten local accounting and procurement policies in response to findings by the General Accounting Office that the program is "vulnerable to waste, abuse, and mismanagement."

Expand the act's youth effort from a summer-only program to a year-round activity serving mostly out-of-school youths.

Revise eligibility criteria and funding formulas to complement the program's new focus.

Mandate greater cooperation between federal job-training, employment, welfare-to-work, and vocational- and adult-education programs.

Ms. Martin said her agency also would revive its call for a single human-resources investment council in each state, which would replace existing separate advisory councils for the various federal employment and training programs. Such a plan was included in one version of last year's reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act, but died in a conference committee.

The Administration's job-training proposal would further push coordination by directing that coordination funds already included in the various federal programs be focused on improving school-to-work-transition programs and adult-literacy efforts.

Roberts T. Jones, assistant secretary of labor for employment and training, said the coordination effort would also be a key focus of upcoming jtpa debate.

"Given the President's education agenda, we will continue to increase the atmosphere in which a number of the proposals are going this way," he said.

Legislative aides last week said a timetable had not yet been set for the progress of the legislation.

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