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Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta defended a proposed 9 percent Labor Department funding cut for next fiscal year, including a plan to target “less effective” job training programs.
“We are focusing the Department of Labor on its core mission by making smart investments in programs that work, eliminating programs that are less efficient or less effective, while reforming under-performing programs,” Acosta said March 6 as part of his written testimony before the House labor appropriations subcommittee.
Democrats on the committee questioned the cuts, saying they could seriously hamper the agency’s effectiveness. But Republicans cheered what they called a strong job market, the recent tax cuts, and the DOL’s increased focus on apprenticeships.
The proposal to slash the DOL’s budget by $1.1 billion next year, to $10.9 billion, includes a $407 million reduction in spending on Job Corps centers for disadvantaged youth and the elimination of the Senior Community Service Employment Program at a savings of $400 million.
The DOL’s official budget request signaled a 21 percent funding drop for the department. Separate from the budget document, however, the White House said it would offset some of the cuts with $1.5 billion in newly available funds for DOL workforce development grants, according to a memo from Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.
Many of the proposed reductions mirror the Trump administration’s budget request for the 2018 fiscal year, which wasn’t adopted by Congress. The president’s budget request traditionally is a policy wish list of sorts that Congress can use or disregard as part of its appropriations process.
Acosta drew praise March 6 from some subcommittee Republicans who touted job growth they said was the result of the new tax law. He also fielded criticism from some Democrats, including ranking member Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), who described the latest budget request as representing the “hollowing out of the Department of Labor and a fundamental failure to govern.”
DeLauro took issue with proposed reductions to Job Corps and DOL sub-agencies, such as the Bureau of International Labor Affairs.
Acosta defended the proposed cuts, saying the 80 percent ILAB reduction largely targets grants that are often used to help a country comply with international labor standards. He suggested Congress weigh in on whether to continue funding those efforts.
“Should the American taxpayer be paying for those countries to address those issues?” he asked. “Congress needs to decide if it wants to give American tax money for other countries.”
The Trump administration is in the midst of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
The NAFTA deal has been criticized by some Democrats and labor unions, as well as by President Donald Trump, who campaigned on a promise to renegotiate deals he said were unfair and caused U.S. job losses. Talks to change the 24-year-old trade pact started in August, largely behind closed doors.
Acosta identified two areas where the department will focus resources: workplace safety and union monitoring.
He told House appropriators that the department has been issued a waiver to the Trump administration’s hiring freeze, allowing for the DOL to hire more inspectors for the agency’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The dozens of new hires are to replace the loss through attrition of about 40 OSHA inspectors.
Acosta also addressed Democrats’ questions about the proposal to add more funding for the Office of Labor-Management Standards, which oversees union disclosure requirements. The administration is proposing that OLMS get a boost to $46.6 million in the next fiscal year.
The increase aims to reverse reductions during the Obama administration, “bringing it back to historical levels,” Acosta said.
The funding proposal seeks to restore an office from the George W. Bush administration that was designed to audit large international unions. The funding request also comes as the DOL is being asked by congressional Republicans to take a hard look at worker centers.
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