Center for American Progress

Stopping the Labor Department Planned Destruction of Job Corps

Testimony by
Scott Lilly, Center for American Progress
Agela Styles, Miller & Chevalier Chartered
Before the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee

The President’s FY 2007 Budget Request for Job Corps

Mr. Chairman, Congressman Obey, Members of the Subcommittee, on behalf of the National Job Corps Association (NJCA), we want to thank the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee for its dedication to Job Corps and the vulnerable and disadvantaged young Americans it serves. We appreciate the Committee’s efforts on behalf of Job Corps in fiscal year (FY) 2006. Not only did the Committee provide the program with increased funding within the constraints of an extremely tight budget, but it also agreed to elevate Job Corps within the Department of Labor in order to prevent the cannibalization of Job Corps resources to subsidize the priorities of certain appointed officials within the Department of Labor.

As we are sure you are all aware, Job Corps celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. During those 40 years it has become the preeminent example of how young lives can be turned around and how young people with few prospects can be helped to develop into mature and productive adults. Amongst the array of programs aimed at reaching this troubled population, none has the well-documented record of success in changing lives that Job Corps has created over the past four decades.

Remarkably, the Department of Labor (DOL) has ignored the clear directive provided by the Congress with respect to preserving the structures and resource base that has permitted Job Corps to succeed. The Department has, in fact, used the Congressional directive as an opportunity to proceed with the very policy that the directive was intended to prevent, the cannibalization of Job Corps. Since this directive was signed into law by the President, the actions of the Department challenge not only the future of Job Corps but the integrity of the legislative process itself.

We also want to express concern over the proposed cuts in Job Corps operating levels contained in the President’s FY 2007 Budget. If Congress does not act to restore funding, the proposed $72 million cut below FY 2006 enacted levels will mean that the program will reach an even smaller portion of the eligible population in need of Job Corps training. We estimate that the proposed funding cuts would result in 1,000 fewer at-risk youth being served in Fiscal 2007 than we expect to serve during the current fiscal year.

Job Corps Program Transfer

Mr. Chairman, the Department has a long and often discouraging history of attempting to provide meaningful and effective training to those in our society who wish to work but who simply don’t have the skills to find gainful employment. The logic behind these efforts is compelling. Without intervention, we will have significant numbers of Americans who are not full participants in our economy or our society. They will not be able to instill the values of work and achievement in their own children, and the cycle of poverty will remain unbroken. People who could be taxpayers will be very likely to require government subsidies for health care, housing and even food, and will be at an elevated risk of even more expensive interventions, including incarceration.

Over the years we have watched hundreds of training models come and go. We have seen new legislation offer promise of new ways to organize our goodwill and resources to do a more effective job in accomplishing this difficult task. Some of these efforts have shown promise. But only one has demonstrated year in and year out for more than four decades, that it could take young people with the lowest prospects of finding work and give them the skills, the self confidence and the labor market savvy to both find work and increase their earnings.

It is the recognition of that fact that has given Job Corps such broad bipartisan support. That support has been reflected not only in defending the program’s budget but also more recently by inserting legislative language into the fiscal year 2006 appropriation that elevate Job Corps within the Department of Labor and prevent efforts by certain individuals within the Employment and Training Administration from breaking the program into pieces in order to gain control of Job Corps procurement and contracting operations, Job Corps training and outreach goals and Job Corps communications activities

Specifically, the Congress included in Public Law 109-149 the following language, which was signed into law by the President on December 30th of last year.

“The Secretary of Labor shall permanently establish and maintain an Office of Job Corps within the Office of the Secretary, in the Department of Labor, to carry out the functions (including duties, responsibilities and procedures) of subtitle C of Title I of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (29 U.S.c= 2881 et seq). The Secretary shall appoint a senior member of the civil service to head that Office of Job Corps and carry out subtitle C. The Secretary shall transfer funds appropriated for the program carried out under that subtitle C, including the administration of such program to the head of the Office of Job Corps.”

In response to that language, the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Labor issued a memorandum last Friday outlining the Department’s plans regarding Job Corps. That memorandum directs various entities within the Department to take steps that violate both the letter and the spirit of the law signed by the President only three months ago. Despite taking an oath to “protect and defend the Constitution,” there are clearly those within the Labor Department who believe that Article I of that document was a mistake.

The memorandum directs the following specific actions:

That the responsibility for managing Job Corps shall be split into essentially four separate pieces, three of which will managed by Assistant Secretaries within the Department who have wide ranging responsibilities other than the operation of Job Corps.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management shall control all national and regional contracting functions of Job Corps, all budgeting and financial management functions including management to support operation of the Job Corps program. All resources needed by the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management to perform these functions shall be taken from the funds that you appropriated directly to the Job Corps last December.

The Assistant Secretary of Labor for Policy shall take responsibility for Job Corps research, evaluation and for establishing Job Corps policy. Again, the funds which the Assistant Secretary for Policy feels are necessary to perform these responsibilities will be taken from the amounts that this committee provided directly to Job Corps.

Finally, the document directs that the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs to assume control of “all public relations, web site management, call center operations and media affairs for the Office of Job Corps.” Again, resources appropriated to Job Corps will be diverted to yet another portion of the Department of Labor.

All of this is being done despite the bill language that clearly states,”The Secretary shall transfer funds appropriated for the program … including the administration of such program to the head of the Office of Job Corps.”

The memorandum does create an Office of Job Corps within the Office of the Secretary as the legislative provision requires. But it is difficult to envisage exactly what tasks will be left to that office. It should be noted that the current Director of Job Corps has been dismissed and will not run the office, and the memo provides little information about how the new director will spend her time after all management, policy and communication responsibilities have been transferred elsewhere within the Department

Mr. Chairman, those of us who feel that we do too little to extend the ladder of success to individuals facing the toughest challenges in this society, and who believe that Job Corps represents one of the only proven formulas to help such individuals succeed, are stunned by the Labor Department’s actions. The structure outlined in the March 24th memorandum not only destroys the management structure that has permitted Job Corps’ success — the very structure that the legislative provision in this year’s appropriation was crafted to protect — but it creates a management structure ensured to destroy any program. Job Corps will no longer have a single leader. Virtually all activities would be dependent on the concurrence, goodwill and effort of three separate bureaucracies with responsibilities ranging from third world child labor abuse to mine safety, consumer price surveys, and the solvency of multiemployer pension funds.

It is almost as if someone in the Employment and Training Administration is saying that if we can’t have Job Corps my way, we won’t have it at all.

But this episode is also stunning from another standpoint. The founding fathers clearly had something in mind when they included Section 9, Clause 7 in Article I of the Constitution, a sentence that is quite appropriately given a prominent place on the Web site of your committee and which reads, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasure but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” While this single sentence is perhaps the essence of the entire constitution, the backbone of the separation of powers, there is no evidence of any debate over this language at any point during the several months our founding fathers labored in Philadelphia to produce a new Constitution. That the legislature should have the power of the purse is part of the Anglo-American philosophy of governance dating back to 1215 and the Battle of Runnymede.

But there are clearly those within the Department that reject that philosophy, who think that granting Congress the power of the purse was a mistake, and who find the efforts of your committee to be at variance with their self-image as the only decision-makers regarding Job Corps and other activities they consider within their purview. We find those attitudes even more difficult to comprehend than the blatant disregard for the efforts of the thousands of men and women who go to work every day trying to make the world a better place by instilling the skills and values necessary to succeed in the workplace and the hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged young people whose lives they touch.

We recognize how frustrating this whole process has been to our many friends on both sides of the aisle, on the authorizing as well as appropriating committees, and in both Houses. We wish that we did not have to come to you and seek not only the resources necessary to carry out the mission of this program but also protection from those whose responsibility is to manage it.

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