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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy 8 Becoming an Agent of Change As noted in Chapter 5, the committee has strong reservations about the federal government trying to micromanage programs for training for the workplace. We believe that the states should be the primary source of managerial leadership and policy coherence in this field. Nevertheless, we envision the federal government playing an important new role vis-à-vis postsecondary training: as a catalyst or an agent of change in encouraging systemic reform. In this chapter, we examine how the federal government could become an agent of change, in terms of both its functions and institutional structures through which these functions could be carried out. FUNCTIONS CONTRIBUTING TO SYSTEM-BUILDING In our deliberations about what the federal government should do to encourage the building of a postsecondary training system, we identified six functions to be performed. The first three would support the system-building that, we argued in Chapter 5, offers the best hope of creating coherent, readily accessible, articulated, effective, and high-quality postsecondary training for the workplace. The second three would develop the federal leadership role through activities we believe the federal government is best positioned to carry out. Making Grants States may have difficulty finding the start-up resources needed to pull their disparate postsecondary training systems together. New, consolidated
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy information systems may need to be developed, initial comprehensive planning undertaken, new umbrella organizations set up, and so forth. Therefore, we believe the federal government should make grants to state governments (and to general-purpose local governments, where appropriate, after consultation with the states in which they are located) for systems development, program integration, the design of new data systems, and other aspects of managerial capacity-building for work force preparation. These activities could include establishing and testing new managerial arrangements, such as coordinated service delivery, training managers for new challenges, and developing data systems for linking employment and training institutions and developing client-tracking systems at the local level. Rationalizing Federal Requirements In Chapter 3 we described how conflicting and contradictory federal requirements complicate the task of systemic reform at the state and local levels. The federal government needs to develop common or compatible program definitions; procedures for determining eligibility; and fiscal, administrative, and planning requirements in its programs that support postsecondary training. Granting Waivers States that are making good progress in developing integrated work-force development systems should be able to seek waivers from provisions of federal laws and regulations that impede reform efforts. Waivers would allow states to use resources authorized under various federal work-force development programs in a coherent manner that meets employer and client needs. Waivers would give states a way to improve the coherence of their training systems right away, until the federal government rationalizes its own fragmented array of programs and requirements. Waivers should be available only on application and granted only to states who meet readiness conditions. These would identify states that are making significant progress toward developing systemic approaches to work force development. These conditions would presumably change over time (for example, to include more emphasis on performance and outcome information as better tools for creating this information become available). Readiness conditions might include the following: The state has a systemic approach to training that includes both public- and private-sector activities and a clear commitment to involvement on the part of the private sector. The state has a system for integrated planning by education, labor, and the private sector at the state and local levels.
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy The state has taken steps to simplify access to programs by clients and employers and to improve accountability, by, among other things, moving to develop integrated information systems and performance data. The state has taken steps to eliminate barriers to effective service delivery created by state rules and regulations. There is a clear commitment from the governor and state legislature to building a work force development system. States would decide which federal programs they wish to include in their initiatives and would have the flexibility to decide how to meet the readiness conditions. One result of this approach is that, over time, a number of natural experiments would develop from which to learn how work force development systems can best be created. Developing National Skills Standards In Chapter 6 we argued that existing federal efforts to encourage the development of skills standards lack an adequate framework. We believe that the federal government needs to take responsibility for resolving the numerous design issues identified in that chapter and for creating a national framework within which individual skills-standards boards could operate. Supplying Research and Development The subjects for attention could include management research, studies related to setting and implementing skills standards, the development of methods for setting up management and data systems, and research on training methods. We have a special concern about research issues and information needs that cross program and departmental lines, since these tend to be neglected at present. For example, the federal government should support the development of broad-based longitudinal studies that cut across program lines but that can be matched with data collected by specific programs. Far too little is currently known about how the various training programs interact to affect individual trainees. It is also important to improve the ability of information systems to meet guidance and counseling needs at the local level as well as administrative and research requirements. The National Center for Education Statistics, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the National Occupation Information Coordinating Committee all need to be involved in the establishment of a common national framework to improve client access to information. Common definitions, connections between databases, and usefulness of management information systems for direct service providers are all areas requiring attention. Finally, the federal government should also sponsor research on such issues as the effects of
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy incentives in performance management systems, which affect multiple training programs. Reporting In Chapter 5 we argued that the federal government is uniquely well-situated to articulate the goals and evaluate the progress of the nation in improving postsecondary training for the workplace. One way to do this would be through an annual report on the state of the American work force. In proposing this, we mean to restore and enhance a practice that existed for 20 years, from 1963 to 1982, when the U.S. Department of Labor (sometimes in cooperation with other departments) prepared an annual "Employment and Training Report of the President" on employment and training needs, issues, and programs.1 The report we envision should be broader in coverage than those reports, however, and should emphasize training more heavily. It should highlight institutional capacity-building and linkages among institutions and program participants in the field of work force development. MEANS OF BECOMING AN AGENT OF CHANGE We believe that the United States is in the middle of an important period of innovation and system-building in postsecondary (and other) training. Much of it is occurring at the state and local levels, as it should. As we have said, the federal government should act as an agent of change to encourage these developments. To do so, the federal government needs to take a lesson from the states that have restructured themselves to improve their ability to take a systemic approach to work force development issues. With dozens of programs scattered among various executive branch departments (most notably, Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor), what options does the federal government have for taking a more comprehensive view? We see a number of ways the functions described in the preceding section could be carried out; not all have to be accomplished in the same way. The most straightforward approach would be to assign the responsibility for these functions to one of the existing departments. However, most of our committee members find this approach problematic. We doubt that any one department will have or will be perceived to have an evenhanded, comprehensive interest in all of the important pieces comprising the postsecondary training puzzle. We fear existing departments would instead continue to emphasize their traditional areas of interest and expertise. While we are concerned about relying solely on existing departments to perform the system-building functions we envision, however, we recognize that some of the functions or subfunctions might well be assigned to them.
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy Another approach would be to restructure the executive branch the way some states (and, recently, Australia) have done by bringing training programs together in a single department.2 We did not seriously consider this option, however, nor the related one of moving programs from one existing department to another to achieve more apparent rationality. Besides probably exceeding our charge, such reorganizations fly in the face of our sense of the politically feasible. As the National Commission for Employment Policy (1991b:12) described coordination options for employment and training programs: There appears to be little enthusiasm in either the Executive or Legislative Branches for combining either all federal assistance programs or all employment and training programs under a more logical organization structure. The time and costs involved in Executive Branch reorganization are great . . . . In addition, the jurisdictional issues associated with congressional committees and Executive Departments, historical reasons, and the problems of responding to different special interest groups present formidable obstacles to reorganization. Nevertheless, without such formal organizational consolidation, the problem remains of how the federal government can develop an integrated view of national training needs and the ability to encourage changes consistent with that view. Two other conventional approaches to coordination are legislative mandates and administrative action. Legislative mandates require government agencies to coordinate their actions with other agencies. One example is a requirement under the Family Support Act that the Secretary of Health and Human Services coordinate JOBS education and training services with the Secretaries of Education and Labor. Another is the requirement under the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act that state vocational education plans be reviewed by state JTPA Job Training Coordinating Councils. Administrative action involves steps like the interagency agreement established in November 1989 among the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, and Labor to provide jointly technical assistance to states in implementing the JOBS program. Legislative mandates and administrative action sometimes improve coordination among programs (National Commission for Employment Policy, 1991b:9-12) and probably reduce the turf struggles among departments and agencies. They fail, however, to provide the strong systemic perspective that is a major problem with current federal policy, nor are they sturdy vehicles for carrying out the leadership role that we have recommended the federal government assume. We investigated two earlier federal efforts (the Joint Funding Simplification Act of 1974 and the Low Income Opportunity Board [LIOB] that was created in the White House in 1987) to help states and localities coordinate
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy services by coordinating federal funding from several agencies and waiving some federal rules. These efforts were more limited in scope than the vehicle we are seeking; they also had only mixed success. Only 56 projects were funded under the Joint Funding Simplification Act from 1972 to 1984. States and localities found that lengthy and costly preapplication procedures, individual federal agency add-on requirements, and processing delays under the coordinated agency review procedure out-weighed the theoretical benefits of better-integrated projects and improved program coordination (U.S. Office of Management and Budget, 1984). The act was terminated in 1985. LIOB, which encouraged states to adopt innovative and systemic approaches to welfare by creating a single point of contact for those wishing to obtain waivers from federal statutes and regulations, more closely resembles the waiver function we wish to create. It still required sign-off by the program agencies, however. We favor some mechanism for providing a central waiver-granting authority that would avoid the difficulties of seeking individual departmental approvals. Most of our committee members believe that a new mechanism is needed if the federal government is to be the influential agent of change that we think is needed. A single federal entity, whose range of interests spans the disparate aspects of postsecondary training (and of other parts of the employment and training system that are beyond our charge) can bring the necessary breadth and integrated perspective to federal policy. Creating such an entity is preferable to assigning lead responsibility to one or another department because training issues cross departmental boundaries, and we want all parties to feel equal ownership of the effort. The option we analyzed most carefully was the creation of an Office of Work Force Development, which would be established with high visibility and significant powers. The model we have in mind is the National Science Foundation (NSF). Like NSF, the office we discussed would be independent, not located in the Executive Office of the President or under the aegis of an existing federal agency, and not structured as an interagency board. The director of the office would have a fixed term and be subject to Senate confirmation. The office would be governed by a policy-making board, the equivalent of NSF's National Science Board. New board members would be appointed by the president, with the advice of the current board and be subject to Senate confirmation as well. Such an office could be the leading edge of the federal effort to spark improvement and reform in postsecondary training, by carrying out most or all of the functions identified in the preceding section. In its grant-making activities, it could focus more broadly than existing departments do, emphasizing support of state and local efforts that enhance system building. It could take the lead in pulling together the necessary federal departments to
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Preparing for the Workplace: Charting a Course for Federal Postsecondary Training Policy work out ways of rationalizing requirements and calendars as well as providing (through waivers) a way for states to overcome the barriers that conflicting federal rules now construct. We believe that the office could also be the umbrella organization under which a national skills-standards board could work out the design issues and create the framework we found is needed (see Chapter 6) to build a national (not federal) skills standards system. Furthermore, the office could take responsibility for the kind of cross-program and cross-departmental research and information system needs that have not been adequately addressed to date. We think that it is crucial to involve the important constituencies in the activities of the office, but different groups and structures are needed for different functions. The governing board should include nonfederal officials, employers, training providers, and leading scholars on work force development issues. The skills-standards board mentioned above should be led by employers but should include training providers and state and local officials. A waiver panel, composed of representatives of the federal agencies who provide significant support for postsecondary training, should advise the office on the establishment of general standards that would be applied to individual applications for waivers. We further believe that nonfederal representatives should be involved in the review of both grant applications and waiver requests; we believe this could be accomplished through a peer-review process. Peer review, involving federal, state, local, and private-sector representatives, would help insulate the grant and waiver processes from political pressures. We believe that a degree of political insulation for the office is important in enabling the office to pick winners quite consciously, rather than operating in an automatic and formulaic way. Peer review would also help evaluate the feasibility of state proposals and would help all the partners develop a feeling of ownership in the system approach. All of our committee members agree on the need for the federal government to become an agent of change in the task of building a strong postsecondary training system in the United States. We differ somewhat on the best vehicle for carrying out this role. We all believe, however, that the federal government should take on the functions we have identified and, with them, a new and critically needed role as catalyst in encouraging the development of a training system equal to the world's best. NOTES 1. The report was called the "Manpower Report of the President" from 1963 to 1975. As best we can determine, no report was issued in 1981. 2. In 1987, Australia consolidated its federal education and employment departments into a new Department of Employment, Education, and Training.
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