Job training programs found Combining them seen very difficult

154 U.S.

September 03, 1993|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration doesn't have a job training policy; it has 154 of them.

That's how many separate, competing, duplicative programs the government runs to help people find new careers.

At least 65 job training programs serve poor Americans. Forty-five help youth. Six target American Indians. Others focus on ex-felons, displaced homemakers, refugees and runaways.

It's a Herculean task to understand the options that are available, says Linda Morra, a General Accounting Office investigator.

Plainly, most job-seekers don't. Nearly 90 percent, she has found, simply end up in the first program that will have them.

Mr. Clinton's "reinventing government" team will focus attention on the overlap when its recommendations for bureaucratic reform come out Tuesday, but early drafts offer no sweeping solutions. They simply recognize the problem is serious: The 154 programs cost $24 billion in 1993, and there's not much evidence that they're working.

Only four training programs that target displaced workers would be consolidated under Mr. Clinton's plan. They are: retraining for those put out of work by foreign competition, by defense budget cuts, by the Clean Air Act and by shutdowns due to recession.

There's a political explanation for the consolidation: Workers idled by the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement will need an improved, coherent retraining program for Mr. Clinton to fulfill his pledge that NAFTA won't hurt the American work force.

The other 150 training programs would be left intact. The administration wants to make access to them easier via a nationwide system of one-stop job centers equipped with counselors and a computerized training program library.

The Labor Department would be the lead agency for job training under Mr. Clinton's plan, and a commission would hammer out common definitions and more precise standards for the 150 programs.

But why can't some programs be eliminated, especially when analysts believe 25 or less would suffice?

Sometimes "Congress recognizes that programs aren't working so they create a new one, but never get around to killing the old one," says Ron Platt, a Washington lobbyist who specializes in job training. "Some are just there because they're there."

A year ago, Robert Rogers, a GAO investigator assigned to track down every job training program in the federal budget, found 125. But "you find one, and talk to the people about it, and you hear, 'Well, there's a program that does something like this over in the such-and-such agency,' " Mr. Rogers explains. That kind of detective work brought his tally to 154 this spring.

The number and redundancy of programs are "appalling," says GAO investigator Rogers, "but where do you start?

"You might start by asking which programs are working or not working. But the better question -- the only question you could answer -- is whether they're collecting data so you could ever tell whether they're working or not."

Mr. Rogers takes a philosophic view. "It took a long time to set this up; it's going to take a long time to fix it," he says.

And Mr. Clinton's one-stop job training centers will add one more to the total, Mr. Rogers notes.

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