This article appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of The Classroom Teacher.

In June, President Donald Trump set forth a framework to reorganize agencies and programs within the federal government. The Office of Management and Budget’s proposal recommends combining the U.S. Education and Labor departments. A new U.S. Department of Education and Workforce would have four lead agencies: K-12; the American Workforce and Higher Education Administration; Enforcement; and Research, Evaluation, and Administration. The proposal delivers on Trump’s campaign promises to focus on jobs for the non-college-bound and improve the coordination of workforce development initiatives.

Previous administrations have sought to streamline and merge agencies, but their proposals never advanced out of congressional committees due to jurisdictional disputes. OMB is attempting to lead off the 3- to 5-year implementation plan with projects, some proposed by the Obama administration, that have undergone agency vetting — such as moving personnel security background investigations from the Office of Personnel Management to the Defense Department, restructuring cybersecurity workforce acquisition, and revamping the federal customer experience. These projects will require “skilled technical expertise, enhanced business processes, and improved management support,” according to the proposal.

OMB Deputy Director Margaret Weichert has appeared in two House and Senate hearings since the release of the White House plan. Weichert explained OMB’s approach was to put forth an initial framework outside of congressional input, as it would have been immediately sidetracked otherwise. The administration plans to share gathered data and engage stakeholders and lawmakers to solicit alternative proposals and public debate. She further said the reorganization plan is not a downsizing proposal but rather re-skilling the federal workforce for jobs of the future. 

With regard to potential impacts on federal education programs, the proposed K-12 agency would consist of the current Offices of Elementary and Secondary Education and English Language Acquisition. This does not represent a major change from the current department. The proposed American Workforce and Higher Education Administration would merge current Department of Labor Offices (Employment and Training Administration, Women’s Bureau, Veterans’ Employment and Training Services and Disability Employment Policy) with the Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education and Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education. The plan would eliminate the Office of the Undersecretary of Education that currently oversees higher education programs. 

The Enforcement Agency would merge Labor’s current enforcement agencies including the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program, the Office of Labor-Management Standards, the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs and the Wage and Hour Division with USDE’s Office of Civil Rights. 

The Research, Evaluation and Administration Agency would include USDE’s Institute of Education Sciences and other evaluation and research components.

Congressional Democrats’ responses have focused on the adverse impact to USDE’s Office of Civil Rights, saying the change could undermine protections to students and that it diminishes the role of federal oversight in education policy. Over the summer, OMB will discuss with agencies what proposals they could achieve administratively, and which ones may need congressional approval or will be included in the president’s fiscal year 2020 budget request. The reorganization plan faces tough odds for approval by Congress, which would need to approve more substantive legislative measures to accomplish a true merger. 

Career and Technical Education 

Federal efforts to train and expand the U.S. workforce have intensified in the past weeks, with legislative measures in the wings and the announcement of an executive order creating a new workforce training task force. These efforts are in response to the much reported “employee skills gap” by U.S. companies and the desire to provide alternative career paths, another campaign promise made by President Trump. 

On the legislative front, the House and Senate education committees worked to complete reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The purpose of the CTE Act is to develop the academic, career and technical skills of secondary and postsecondary students who elect to enroll in alternative career paths outside of traditional universities and colleges. 

One of the more significant changes to the program is that it enables states to exercise more control in the use of allocated federal funds. States now can set their own targets and must develop their state plans in consultation with teachers, faculty, employers, labor organizations, workforce development boards, parents, students, other state and local agencies. However, a provision allows the Education Department to withhold funds from districts and other agencies if they fail to meet performance targets. The bill would also seek to expand CTE programs to non-traditional students, including adult learners who may not have attained a high school diploma or equivalent, out-of-school youth, English learners, youth in foster care, dislocated workers and low-skilled adults. The measure authorizes an increase in appropriation levels and permits states to keep 15 percent for leadership activities, which could be awarded in a competitive program. It has taken Congress several years to produce an agreement on CTE reauthorization — this one gives states more flexibility but also includes accountability and data requirements.  

Scott Stump was confirmed by the Senate in mid-July as Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education. One of his first priorities will be coordinating implementation of the new bill with states. 

On the executive front, President Trump issued an executive order that would establish a cabinet-level working group charged with the development of a national strategy to train and retrain employees for high-demand industries. The group would look at a wide array of industries and types of training programs to recommend public-private sector initiatives that will create enhanced employment opportunities.