Recommendations and Actions
Instead of serving all people, federal job training programs serve categories of people: welfare recipients, food stamp recipients, displaced homemakers, youth in school, youth out of school, workers displaced by trade impacts, workers displaced by the spotted owl, and so on. The categorical nature of federal funds is the greatest single barrier to creating an integrated workforce development system. Efforts at the state and local levels to coordinate and combine funding streams have been hampered because each stream, for each category, has its own rules.
All federal agencies that offer workforce development programs will need to join in helping to reduce the current fragmentation of these programs. Program definitions, fiscal systems, performance measures, and reporting periods need to be consistent at the federal level to achieve program integration at the local level. The public sector must create a new way of doing business, one where accountability is based on effective leadership, clear missions, and performance rather than rules and regulations.
1. Create a Workforce Development Council for strategic planning on workforce development.
The National Economic Council (NEC) should convene a multiagency team as soon as possible to create a strategic plan for workforce development. At a minimum, this team should include the Departments of Labor, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, and the Office of Management and Budget. Other federal agencies with employment and training programs (e.g., the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Commerce, Veterans Affairs, and Housing and Urban Development) should also participate. The team will actively seek input from state, local, employee, and employer representatives.
Within the first 18 months, this team should provide leadership on a set of tasks that would facilitate the coordination of separate funding streams. These tasks should include developing a core set of uniform terms and definitions, standardizing fiscal and administrative procedures, developing a comprehensive set of results- oriented performance standards, and improving qualitative information on program performance.
a. Develop a core set of uniform terms and definitions. Creating common definitions across different program funding streams is key to coordinating the separate employment programs. This standardization would allow joint intake forms, comparisons among programs, and the development of common data elements. Common definitions should also facilitate the use of more sophisticated computer technologies to improve information, services, and access.
Many of the current definitions of terms have been created administratively through agency policies and regulations. These can be changed without legislation. Some definitions, however, have been legislatively created and will require action by Congress.
In 1992, Congress amended the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) to require the Department of Labor to lead an interagency work group to submit a report to Congress that identifies a core of consistently defined data elements and definitions for a set of employment and training programs (JTPA, the Perkins Act, Job Opportunities and Basic Skills [JOBS] and Title V of the Older Americans Act) by January 1, 1994. The report must also include "an analysis of the benefits of the adoption of the data elements and definitions."(1) This is an important step in facilitating program integration. However, this report does not cover all workforce development programs, and it is not clear how the recommendations will be implemented.
The multiagency team should review the work group report and facilitate its implementation, seek standardization of terms across all other workforce development programs, and ensure that states, local service providers, and customers participate in the process of standardizing terms.
b. Standardize fiscal and administrative procedures. Each individual employment and training program has its own rules and regulations on fiscal systems and reporting. At a minimum, this creates an administrative burden for program operators attempting to coordinate funding streams. Of even more concern, it discourages the coordination needed to create comprehensive programs.
One example of the negative impact of differing systems comes from rural Allegheny County, New York. This area has coordinated many of its workforce development services and houses them all in an employment center. The center tries to make the services appear as seamless as possible to customers. However, at the end of the day, the staff must enter information on each customer four times, each time at a different computer terminal, to accommodate different reporting requirements for JTPA, JOBS, the Employment Service, and for client tracking purposes.(2) Instead of spending limited resources for complex software that tracks differences in program rules, these differences should be eliminated.
The multiagency team should identify areas where fiscal and administrative systems can be rationalized and develop a plan to achieve this. The goal should be to create the simplest fiscal system possible, such as a system where the only cost categories for reporting purposes are administration and program expenses. Implementing a more rational fiscal and administrative system across different funding streams will facilitate program coordination and, in some cases, integration.
c. Develop a complementary set of results-oriented performance standards. Many of the existing employment, training, and continuing education programs have some system of measuring program performance. These measures, however, often do not provide adequate information on the quality of programs. The measures that do reflect program quality are rarely used to inform customer choice or to influence funding decisions.
Additionally, some performance measures provide disincentives for service providers to take on the toughest cases. Some measures emphasize gains such as job placements, but neglect to measure achieving a certain level of performance. For instance, an individual may attain a great deal of new knowledge in a training program, but may need further education or training to secure employment. If placement is the only measure of a program, it may discourage operators from seeking the participants who need the most training, and the success of a program that aggressively enrolls participants in longer term education and training may be underestimated.
For example, several years ago an attempt to meet job placement goals caused local office staff in the Massachusetts Employment Services' offices to delay referring clients to training because the offices received credit for job placement, not for training referrals. Because of the delay, individuals being referred were often more desperate, less likely to be able to support themselves while in training, and more likely to depend on public assistance for a longer period of time.3
The lack of an effective performance measurement system contributes to a set of workforce development programs where performance is driven by detailed regulations and laws rather than results. This burdens program operators with cumbersome structures and can undermine effective performance by deflecting resources from services to administration. It also does not necessarily lead to accountability.
With the assistance of state and local service providers, the multi- agency team should provide leadership to a review of existing performance standards and their effectiveness. Although different programs will--and should--have different performance standards, the team will identify key workforce development initiatives that encompass groups of programs with the same desired outcomes. The multiagency team should also identify criteria for reviewing and adjusting performance measures.
d. Improve qualitative information on program performance. Performance measures are important, but they cannot always provide the qualitative information program operators need to improve programs or to evaluate results. Unfortunately, in many cases audits have been the only source of information on programs.
Audits, performance management techniques, and evaluation are very different methods of obtaining information on a program. Each has an important function, but uses different tools, assumptions, and methodologies. Performance management tools are useful for state and local operators who continually evaluate and improve their efforts; evaluations are useful for assessing overall program results across many individual programs; and audits are useful for assessing fraud, abuse, and compliance.
2. Implement bottom-up grant consolidation.
The implementation steps to create a more comprehensive, universal, customer-driven, and integrated workforce development system will take time. Some states and localities, however, are actively experimenting with one-stop shopping for job training and education. These states and local entities are finding that their efforts will be more effective if certain types of federal administrative rules and regulations can be waived. The National Performance Review (NPR) has developed a recommendation on bottom-up grant consolidation pertaining to states and localities in the NPR Accompanying Report titled Strengthening the Partnership in Intergovernmental Service Delivery. When implemented, the bottom-up grant consolidation recommendation will allow states and localities to bring together existing resources to more effectively provide employment, training, and continuing education programs.
Standardizing definitions and fiscal systems, creating complementary performance measures, and improving methods of receiving information on programs may appear to be the dull details of institutional life. However, if these details are not changed, they will continue to transform dedicated and creative public employees into rule-driven bureaucrats. It will take leadership to achieve change.
Many of these recommendations can be implemented by using existing resources, but they will require significant staff time from agencies represented on the team. Better integration of programs may ultimately reduce the administrative burden of operating these programs and, therefore, allow the possibility of shifting administrative resources to program expenditures.
1. Job Training Partnership Act Amendments, P.L. 102-367, sec. 455 (b).
2. Telephone interview with Michael Vitagliano, Executive Director of the New York State Human Investment Sub-cabinet, July 20, 1993.
3. Information from Suzanne Teegarden, Executive Director of the Industrial Services Program, Boston, Massachusetts.
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