Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) gave the following opening statement at the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing on reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
“I want to express my gratitude to you and Ranking Member Alexander for holding this hearing today.
“I want to thank you both for your efforts supporting the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act. Without your backing we wouldn’t be here today.
“And I especially want to thank two good friends from across the aisle—Senators Enzi and Isakson, for their years of steadfast, patient, and persistent leadership on this issue.
“I have greatly enjoyed working with them, and have appreciated everything they’ve done to ensure that we are providing the education and training required by workers and employers to meet today’s economic challenges.
“Mr. Chairman, it’s been 15 years since the Workforce Investment Act was last passed, and 10 years since it was due to be reauthorized.
“As we all know, much has changed in that time. The internet boom was driving the economy in the late 1990’s. Then it went bust.
“Housing was booming in the late 1990’s. Then it went bust.
“And as a country, we were also willing and able to make meaningful investments in our workforce development systems in the late 1990’s.
“Now that’s largely gone bust, too.
“Much has changed since 1998—except for the very law that helps us respond to a changing economy and provides the framework for our nation’s workforce development system.
“As a result, and not surprisingly, many have found cause to point out the shortcomings of our workforce systems. And I’ll also admit that the system needs modernizing and reforming.
“But let me also point out just a few of the system’s many successes.
“The latest results for the adult and dislocated worker programs under Title I of WIA for the four quarters ending December 31, 2012 show 1,027,363 adults and dislocated workers were placed in jobs and earned more than $14.8 billion over just the first six months of their employment—or just under $30 billion on an annualized basis.
“ In this same period, WIA funds expended on adult and dislocated worker programs equaled only about $2 billion.
“Let me say that again. An annual expenditure of $2 billion yields a return of nearly $30 billion.
“During the recent recession, the workforce system saw increases of up to 250% in the number of clients it served, with relatively little increase in budgets.
“Yet the system—at a time when there were six or seven job seekers for every job opening, consistently had job placement rates of 50 percent or better.
“There are countless success stories from exceptionally innovative individuals and providers—we’ll hear about a few today—that include the development and expansion of sector strategies, which in Washington state cover industries such as aerospace, maritime, healthcare, finance, information technology, and gaming.
“The implementation of career pathway models, some of the best of which are in Madison, Wisconsin;
“The creation of the I-BEST program in my own state that has transformed the adult education system around the country.
“And the establishment of innovative programs to serve the long-term unemployed, led by Joe Carbone and The WorkPlace in Bridgeport, CT, and featured on 60 Minutes, just to name a few.
“Mr. Chairman, I’m fortunate to have in my state one of the model workforce development systems in the country, so I get a brag quite a bit about the good work being done.
“But the staff and board members of the system back home aren’t shy about telling me where we need improvements and reforms, and I’ve listened carefully.
“As a result, and in working closely with you, Senators Alexander, Enzi, and many others, Senator Isakson and I have recently released a discussion draft of a reauthorization bill that addresses countless recommendations gathered over the past 5 years.
“Let me emphasize something here—what we’ve released is a discussion draft, not a final bill. We are seeking input and advise.
“But we knew that we had to start somewhere and get this process moving again. It’s been far too long and we believe that the process needed a kick-start.
“And that’s what we’ve done.
“So what does our draft propose? Well, among other things, it responds to the 2011 GAO report by hearing the call to help consolidate state administrative structures by requiring a single state unified plan, instead of multiple plans from each state agency with a role in the workforce system.
“This will help ensure that all state agencies are rowing in the same direction and aiming for the same goals.
“Recognizing that workforce programs have not, in fact, been found to be ineffective, but that we lack the necessary data and analysis to know which programs work best, what makes them good, and how we can improve underperforming programs.
“We have put forward a set of performance indicators for all the programs, helping to ensure collaboration and coordination.
“We have tremendously increased our focus on improving data systems, assessments and evaluations, and returns-on-investment.
“And we have put in place a systems measure to better understand how programs, providers and services currently interact, and how we can improve coordination, alignment, and outcomes.
"We maintain the business majorities on the state and local boards while reducing the size of those boards.
"We move the system to be aligned with regional economic development and labor markets.
"We eliminate the sequence of services, and increase access to on-the-job training, incumbent worker training, and customized training.
“In short, we have proposed tremendous improvements in the legislation and the system.
“But we are open to more suggestions. We welcome the coming dialogue and look forward to finally moving this reauthorization to the finish line.
“Because Mr. Chairman, it’s well past time to do so.
“Our workers, our employers, our economy is in need of an improved workforce development system that meets today’s needs—not those from 1998.
“I look forward to today’s hearing, to the testimony from our witnesses, and to the discussion that will follow.
“Again, thank you for holding this hearing today.”