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Congress Could Be Close to Reauthorizing Workforce Investment Act
 

By Bill Leonard  8/12/2013
For the first time in more than 10 years, Congress could reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill for the fall session in September 2013.

On July 31, just hours before Congress adjourned for its traditional August recess, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee approved the WIA of 2013 (S. 1356) with a bipartisan vote of 18-3. The bill now goes to the full Senate, which could begin debating the measure by mid-September, according to sources familiar with the issue. A summary provided by several of the bill’s co-sponsors states that S. 1356 would:

Place a strong emphasis on the effective use of real-world data, performance indicators and evaluations to determine the impact of workforce investments.

Empower state and local workforce agencies to tailor training programs to their specific needs.

Emphasize real-world educational opportunities, such as incumbent-worker training and transitional jobs.

Align workforce systems with regional economic development and labor markets.

Apply a standard set of performance metrics to every workforce program the WIA supports.

The House passed its version of the reauthorization bill (H.R. 803) in March 2013 by a 215-202 vote that ran closely along party lines. Democratic leaders have said they oppose H.R. 803 because the measure would consolidate dozens of job-training programs and freeze current funding levels.

Business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers support the House bill, claiming the legislation would reduce federal mandates and red tape and would require state and local workforce development agencies to outline strategies for serving workers with disabilities and at-risk youth.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s reauthorization measure has drawn support from businesses and groups such as IBM, Siemens Corp., the AFL-CIO and the National Metro Business Alliance.

The WIA was passed in 1998 and was set to be reauthorized five years later; however, every effort on Capitol Hill to reauthorize the legislation since 2003 has stalled. Yearly budget deals and continuing congressional spending resolutions have extended the funding for the workforce training programs and grants that the WIA regulates. Business leaders and advocacy groups have urged Congress to pass a reauthorization, saying a revamp of the law is long overdue.

“America’s business leaders thank the members of the Senate HELP Committee for their bipartisan vote to advance the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act and continue building an American workforce that can compete and succeed,” said Eric Spiegel, president and CEO of Siemens Corp. and vice chair of the Business Roundtable’s Education and Workforce Committee. “We appreciate the efforts of policymakers to prioritize this issue and put Americans back to work. We urge the Senate and the House to come together on a bipartisan basis and, without further delay, reauthorize the programs that lead to credentials and skills valued by employers.”

Democratic leaders have indicated they are willing to work with House Republicans to make sure a reauthorization bill is passed this year.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters during a media briefing in late July that a conference committee could resolve the differences between the Senate and House versions.

“The path forward is obviously going to conference,” Hoyer said in the briefing. “It was a very positive step that the Senate passed a bill out of the HELP committee.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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