NAICU Washington Update

Merger Proposed for Departments of Education and Labor

June 29, 2018

The White House released a government reform and reorganization plan that includes a proposal to consolidate the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor into a single cabinet agency. The resulting agency would be known as the Department of Education and the Workforce (DEW) and have four major offices: American Workforce and Higher Education Administration; K-12 Education; Research, Evaluation and Administration; and Enforcement.

The Administration’s stated goal for the new agency is to better meet the education and skills development needs of Americans, while eliminating duplicative programs and centralizing access.  Higher education critics of the proposal, however, noted that it reflects the trend to “vocationalize” post-secondary education. This focus on vocational education and job training was also apparent in the President’s FY 2019 budget and, to some degree, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s PROSPER Act proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act.

Higher education programs and federal student aid would fall under the American Workforce and Higher Education Administration, along with all the Labor employment and training programs, disability and veterans’ employment programs. Enforcement would include the Office of Civil Rights from the current Department of Education, and the worker protection programs from Labor.

Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) made a statement in response to the proposal that didn’t specifically endorse the merger.  However, she noted the Committee approaches legislation with the common interest of an educated and skilled workforce in mind.  Rep. Foxx, a member of the Oversight Committee, guest-chaired a committee a hearing on the proposal and said government reform is long overdue.  She also said she generally supports the idea of the merger and looks forward to working together on how the new department could work. 

Congress would need to pass legislation to implement the merger of the two agencies.  According to Politico, however, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO), chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for both agencies, doesn’t foresee there being enough votes in the Senate to pass such a measure.

In her testimony about the proposal, the Honorable Margaret Weichert, Deputy Director for Management, U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), told the committee that OMB’s desire is to update and adapt government organization to better serve beneficiaries the way businesses adapt customer service to operate in the 21st Century. 

When asked about the details of a new DEW, Weichert answered broadly about the proposal being a conversation starter on joining education and workforce for a “mission-focused approach to effectively train people for the jobs available in this country.”

Similar ideas to combine the Department of Education with another agency have been proposed several times since the Department was established during the Carter Administration. 

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