The U.S. Department of Labor asked Congress to provide $88.6 billion in total funding as part of President Barack Obama’s $3.8 trillion fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request, which breaks down to $12 billion in discretionary funding and $76.6 billion in budget authority to fund mandatory payments, including unemployment insurance benefits and trade adjustment assistance.
Said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis in the department’s budget request announcement Feb. 13, 2012: “Our budget request focuses on programs that will help keep America’s workforce strong and innovative while providing needed worker protections. It also makes responsible and reasonable cuts that are rooted in current economic realities and a continued focus on increased efficiency and effectiveness.”
The budget request had barely been delivered when Republicans began voicing their opposition to it, and it is unlikely to pass the Republican-dominated House of Representatives in its current form.
Getting Back to Work
Solis stated that the department’s budget provides expanded training and employment opportunities for unemployed workers, dislocated workers and vulnerable communities.
DOL is requesting more than $6 billion for training and employment programs that serve disadvantaged youth, low-income adults, dislocated workers, veterans and Native Americans, as well as migrants and seasonal farm workers.
She said that the DOL will explore new approaches to job training as the economy rebuilds. To spur job training innovation, the budget would provide $125 million to the departments of Education and Labor for the Workforce Innovation Fund. “This fund will test new ideas and replicate proven strategies for delivering better employment and education results at a lower cost,” Solis said.
The plan builds on the recently enacted VOW to Hire Heroes Act that expands tax credits to encourage the hiring of veterans by boosting funding for workshops that are offered to separating service members and grants for employment services to veterans by $8 million over 2012 levels.
To provide job opportunities for long-term unemployed and low-income adults and youth, the budget calls for a $12.5 billion Pathways Back to Work Fund to make it easier for workers to remain connected to the workforce and gain skills for long-term employment, the department said.
“The department’s budget will enhance worker safety by stepping up enforcement, increasing worker training and providing the most vulnerable workers with the information they need to protect themselves,” Solis said.
DOL is requesting $565 million for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and includes an additional $5 million to bolster OSHA’s enforcement of the numerous whistle-blower laws that protect workers and others from retaliation for reporting possibly unsafe and unscrupulous practices.
The department is requesting $372 million for the Mine Safety and Health Administration and an additional $16.9 million to continue efforts to help reduce an “unacceptably large” case backlog at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.
The budget request for the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is $183 million to continue to secure pension and health benefits for America’s workers and their families. EBSA estimates that during FY 2013 it will conduct 3,900 civil investigations and 320 criminal investigations and will complete 4,330 reporting compliance reviews.
The budget proposes giving the board of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) authority to adjust premiums and directing the PBGC to take into account the risks that different sponsors pose to their retirees and to the PBGC itself. “This action will encourage companies to fully fund their pension benefits and ensure the continued financial soundness of the PBGC,” Solis said.
The DOL is requesting $238 million for the Wage and Hour Division, including an increase of $6 million for increased enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act and $14 million to detect and deter the misclassification of workers as independent contractors.
Cuts and Consolidations
“The Labor Department’s FY 2013 budget request reflects many difficult choices and strategic consolidations,” Solis said. “In the current fiscal environment, this requires the shifting of resources from lower-priority programs,” she added.
Some of this retooling includes:
Discontinuing funding for the Women in Apprenticeship in Non-Traditional Occupations program, which was created to expand apprenticeship opportunities for women, and the Veterans Workforce Investment program. Solis said the department hopes to meet the goals of these programs in other ways.
Transferring the Community Service Employment for Older Americans program to the Administration on Aging in the Department of Health and Human Services.
Reforming the Job Corps program, which helps train low-income young people, by closing Job Corps centers that are chronically low-performing and shifting its focus toward the strategies that were proven most cost-effective in recent studies.
Consolidating the regional offices of several agencies within the department, including OSHA and EBSA offices, “to ensure that they are strategically placed to perform DOL’s key functions across the country while eliminating unnecessary administrative costs.”
Additionally, the DOL requests a minimum of $9 million in program evaluations to be overseen by the chief evaluation officer and requests continued authority to set aside funds from major program accounts for an increased number of evaluations. “These investments will provide the department with valuable information about strategies and approaches that work so that resources are invested strategically,” the DOL said.
Roy Maurer is a staff writer for SHRM.