The new federal One-Stop employment and job training system, which was supposed to be cooking on July 1st, has state, local and private employers blowing off steam instead.
The new system was authorized by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which Congress passed in 1998. The idea was to combine as many federal jobs-related programs as possible under a "one-stop" roof and to give prospective employees more autonomy and better opportunities. As a result, employers are supposed to end up with better-trained workers who have skills in specific local industries.
Many cities and counties had established One-Stops prior to passage of the WIA, which then imposed new standards for all One-Stops. But the July 1 deadline for full WIA implementation passed with the One-Stop system still in transition. Kevin Thompson, a spokesman for the program, says 28 states got a "green light" from the Labor Department (DOL), meaning their One-Stop programs were fully authorized. But governors in the other states were told they would have to produce some specific changes to their programs before the DOL would fully approve them.
There are about 600 local work force investment areas in the United States, and each is expected to have at least one comprehensive, full-service One-Stop center. Part of the challenge has been integrating welfare grant programs, educational programs and others with traditional Labor Department employment and training programs and pulling them together under the WIA aegis.
Congressional leaders, such as Rep. Nancy L. Johnson (R-CT), chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Resources, are particularly interested in ensuring One-Stops provide effective services to welfare mothers. Employers, too, want better-trained workers and will be drawing from a pool of WIA employees who are no longer almost exclusively low-income, as was the case when the DOL's chief grant program was the Job Training Partnership Act (which the WIA has replaced). One important WIA feature is that it lets One-Stops provide assistance and training to potential employees of all income levels.
"For states seeking to flex the powerful potential of the WIA, we're finding barriers at the federal level that are systematic and counterproductive to the act," says Linda H. South, executive director of the Brevard (Florida) Work-force Development Board, in charge of five One-Stops.
Robert Gross, president of the Interstate Conference of Employment Security Agencies and executive director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, had similar complaints. "Convincing all the required partners to participate in the One-Stop is difficult at times," he explains. The Labor Department is trying to iron out its coordination problems, but the One-Stop program may remain rumpled for some time.
EPA "One-Stop": Despite the uneven start for federal job One-Stops, there are members of Congress who want to replicate a version of the concept at the Environmental Protection Agency. The idea is to give businesses, especially small companies with limited regulatory-compliance resources, a single point of contact for submissions and information. That's what the Streamlined Environmental Reporting and Pollution Prevention Act of 2000 would do. Democrats and Republicans are supporting the bill, H.R. 4757.
Black day for blacklisting proposal: The House added an amendment to the Treasury-Postal appropriations bill prohibiting federal agencies from "blacklisting" businesses from federal procurement based on evidence that they violated federal employment, workplace-safety, environmental or other regulations. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argued that the standard was too loose. Reps. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Jim Moran (D-VA) co-sponsored the amendment. It must now pass the Senate.
Stephen Barlas is a freelance business reporter who covers the Washington beat for 15 magazines.