Trumpian training

Bearing as it will the imprint of the new administration of Donald J. Trump and the Republican Congress, the final 2018 federal budget is likely to be the most disruptive since president Ronald Reagan’s time. The Trump administration’s $1.1-trillion preliminary 2018 budget proposal released on March 16 detailed many of the changes the president wants to make to the federal government’s spending. The proposal covered only discretionary, not mandatory, spending.
The final budget as passed by Congress and signed into law is likely to be considerably changed from the broad-brush “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” President Trump’s preferences have been clearly expressed, but the priorities of legislators, pressure groups and constituents will also be heard in the sausage-making process through which law is made in Washington, D.C. Particularly this year, it is hard accurately to predict what the final budget will contain. To mix a metaphor, a lot of oxen will be gored, and a lot of interests both protected and damaged.

Most well-known of the Trumpian budget increases are the ten percent increase in the defense budget, more homeland security and a $2.6 billion down payment on the wall on the Mexican border.
To pay for these dramatic increases and the promised tax cuts to come, preliminary numbers propose a 31 percent cut in the Environmental Protection Agency budget and 29 percent for the State Department. Reductions for selected other departments include 21 percent for agriculture, 18 percent for labor, 18 percent for health and human services, 14 percent for commerce, and so forth. Complete agencies have been totally defunded (Among the best known locally are the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities). Dozens of programs (including all UDAG grants) have been wiped out, and many others drastically cut back. The Trump administration says those it axed are wasteful, outdated or duplicative, or their impact is unproven, or that the federal government is funding things better be handled by the states or private sources. Let the games begin.

Ulster County’s Workforce Development Board (WDB) met Tuesday afternoon, April 4 in the Business Resource Center on Ulster Avenue. That’s the building that’s going to be converted mostly for court use in the next few months. WDB director Lisa Berger told the members of the 20-person board that the organization and other members of the consortium that delivers employment, re-employment and training services had to vacate the present facility by August. Where would they move? At the present time, that was unknown, Berger said.

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Avoiding a disruption of services because of the move of offices is the least of the local WDB’s problems. President Trump’s proposed budget wants to scale back on a number of job training programs, including those aimed at helping seniors, disadvantaged young people and unemployed Americans. The 2018 budget also would help the states expand apprenticeship programs and training for disabled workers, while eliminating some training grants for occupational safety.
Director Berger was frank. Since she didn’t know what would happen to the funds she supervises, she’s assuming for the time being that Ulster County will get the same federal workforce training money next year as it’s getting this year. Good luck with that.

The federal Department of Labor (DOL), which funds job training, is a sprawling bureaucracy that does a wide variety of things. Assuming the 21 percent national cut across the department becomes a reality, it’s hard to know what programs would survive and what should (two different questions).

My source within DOL, an economist and no Trumpian, paints a mixed picture about the effectiveness of job training programs. Some training and apprenticeship programs are worthwhile, but others are ineffective, he said.

“A lot of economic research shows that many training programs are not very effective, in that people who go through these programs do not wind up with higher incomes than similar applicants who do not go through training,” he told me in a personal communication. “When you stop to think about this, such results are not very surprising. People have a lifetime of low skills, lack of computer training, and perhaps not very well-developed social skills. It is a lot to expect a short training program to reverse all of these.”

The Ulster County WDB is authorized to spend $1.939 million in federal funds in the current fiscal year ending June 30, with no local match required. Some $905,000 is available for “in-house expenses,” mostly salaries and benefits for employees (the 2017 Ulster County budget lists nine job training administration positions with total salaries of $474,768 plus about 40 percent in benefits), and $1.034 million for training expenses (contracted services, supportive services, incentives and training).

There’s a lot of red tape, and last year’s adoption of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to replace the previous Workforce Investment Act (WIA) brought with it new rules and new institutional arrangements. The new law requires a competitive process to choose the operator supposed to deliver employment and training services. The county government’s procurement office is currently preparing a Request For Proposals for the services. For better or worse, the present job-training apparatus is widely expected to be the successful, and probably the only, bidder.

There’s a state WDB as well, of which Ulster County resident Vincent Cozzolino is chair. Among other things, the state board can re-allocate unspent local money. Cozzolino did not return phone calls about the state’s role, which may be increasing if Congress decides to push more decision-making to the state level.
One unanswered central question concerns the allocation of public resources between education and job training. With knowledge work central to a changing economy, both are critically important. Education, being the more fundamental, may trump training, but that may matter not if Trump starves both.

Geddy’s column appears weekly.

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