Ex-Bush DOL Official a Front-Runner to Lead Job Training Agency

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By Ben Penn

Mason Bishop, a former GOP Labor Department official, is a leading contender to head the agency’s Employment and Training Administration, sources familiar with the process told Bloomberg BNA.

The White House could announce its intent to nominate Bishop as the ETA’s assistant secretary as soon as this week. Bishop, currently a workforce development consultant, was the ETA’s deputy assistant secretary for six years during the George W. Bush administration.

Reached by phone, Bishop declined to comment on his potential nomination. A White House spokesman said in an email that there are “no personnel announcements at this time.”

The next ETA assistant secretary will play a consequential role implementing President Donald Trump’s initiative to expand apprenticeship programs. The subagency, which is responsible for spending the majority of the DOL’s overall budget, is also charged with administering trade adjustment assistance for displaced workers, managing state unemployment insurance benefits, and certifying guestworker visas for employers.

Bishop’s nomination would be subject to Senate approval after lawmakers return from recess in September.

Upon leaving his post in 2007 as the ETA’s second-ranked political officer, Bishop served as vice president of Salt Lake Community College and director of workforce industry partnerships at the University of Phoenix. He now consults with higher education and industry clients on developing job training programs.

A DOL spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Nicholas Geale, currently the department’s acting solicitor and chief of staff, recently told Bloomberg BNA that the White House would be announcing more DOL nominees “in the coming weeks.”

WIOA Shortcomings

The next ETA assistant secretary also will take on the task of continuing the early stages of implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, a bipartisan law that authorizes funding to job training programs throughout the country.

WIOA funding for state and local governments would be slashed significantly under the White House’s budget proposal released in May.

Bishop, speaking with Bloomberg BNA in June, defended the Trump budget cuts and addressed problems with WIOA.

“I think a lot of times the budget is a way to, at a minimum, symbolically say there’s some question to the empirical evidence behind these programs. Are the issues behind the operations being addressed, are they efficient, are they duplicative?” Bishop said. “I think it’s important to have that conversation.”

“Unfortunately, in my opinion I think WIOA is still very one size fits all to some level. It sort of mandates that you must structure your one-stop system this way, there are still a lot of silos across the government.”

Workforce training associations have called for the DOL and the Department of Education to improve coordination in how they administer the WIOA data and technology requirements that have created challenges for state agencies.

Shorthanded Political Staff

The Trump administration hasn’t named selections for most sub-Cabinet DOL positions. Deputy secretary nominee Patrick Pizzella hasn’t yet cleared the Senate labor committee.

A few political advisers have arrived at ETA since Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta assumed office in April. John Martin, a former Republican House workforce committee staffer, and Ondray Harris, a Bush administration Justice Department official, joined the ETA as policy advisers this summer.

Further, Acosta has been regularly touting the ETA’s mission to facilitate apprenticeships, although not name-checking the agency when doing so. The ETA is tasked with implementing Trump’s June executive order by drafting a new regulation that streamlines the apprenticeship registration process and hands more control to industry, unions, and other outside groups.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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