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Trump Team Mulls Merger of Education, Labor Departments, Multiple Sources Say

By Alyson Klein — June 20, 2018 3 min read
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President Donald Trump has officially proposed a merger of the two agencies and outlined the details of his plan. Read more here.

The Trump administration is considering a merger of the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Labor, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the proposal.

The plan, which would be part of a broader effort to overhaul the federal government, would require congressional approval. That’s likely to be a difficult hurdle. It could be announced as soon as a cabinet meeting scheduled for June 21.

The proposal, would fit into the president’s push, first outlined in an executive order issued last year, to overhaul the federal government, eliminate what the administration considers unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and programs, and merge functions.

Administration officials are also considering the more limited step of moving some programs in the Labor Department over to the Education Department, sources say. The programs that would most likely get shifted to the Education Department include initiatives in the Employment and Training Agency that deal with workforce training for young people, including Job Corps and YouthBuild. The New York Times reported earlier this year that the Education Department may acquire several programs from the Labor Department.

The Education Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The plan is still in broad strokes, with the finer policy details still yet to be determined. The combined agency could be called the Department of Education and the Workforce, if the plan is approved by Congress.

It seems unlikely a radical merger of the Education and Labor Departments would make it through Congress. Past attempts to eliminate the Education Department, including one in the early 1980s when President Ronald Reagan took office, and another in the mid-1990s, when Congress flipped to Republican control, haven’t gotten very far.

And back in the mid-1990s, former Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wisc., also proposed combing the two agencies. His plan never came to fruition.

Currently, the Education Department is funded at more than $70 billion and employs nearly 4,000 people. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has proposed her own plan to transform and streamline the agency, including a big shake-up of the office that oversees K-12 policy. And Trump has pitched cutting the agency’s budget by 5 percent, and eliminating a slew of programs, including for teacher training and afterschool.

An advocate for district leaders doesn’t think a merger of the Education and Labor Departments would help the feds serve schools better.

“The concept of merging USED into another agency is not new, and more an exercise in process and distraction than substance or merit,” said Noelle Ellerson Ng, the associate executive director for policy and advocacy at the AASA, the School Superintendents Association in an email. “A reorganization of this magnitude would be a significant bureaucratic cost that would more likely resemble shuffling deck chairs instead of streamlining services or increasing efficiencies. Further, the timing of this idea emerging just as leaders, educators, and constituents across the country express strong opposition to and deep concern with the Trump administration’s policy to separate families is either very poorly timed and/or a poorly veiled distraction tactic.”

The National Education Association, a 3 million-member union, also suggested the timing of the announcement could be intended to draw attention from the “humanitarian crisis” along the Mexican border, in the wake of outrage over the administration’s push to separate undocumented immigrants from their children.

“The Trump administration’s plans to reorganize the federal government, including the possible radical merger of two federal agencies, the departments of education and labor among other changes, are at best ill-conceived and poorly timed and at worst are an attempt to distract the American public from the humanitarian crisis he created along the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Lily Eskelsen García, the NEA’s president in a statement. “The public outcry over the Trump administration’s inhumane policy to separate children and families seeking protection is unequivocal. The Trump administration should focus on fixing this problem, stop traumatizing children, instead of manufacturing distractions.”

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