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By Ben Penn
Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s choice to run the Employment and Training Administration, Mason Bishop, has been blocked by the White House for an unknown reason, Bishop confirmed to Bloomberg BNA Oct. 11.
Bishop’s removal from consideration for the job after White House vetting has sent the Trump administration back to square one for finding a nominee to head the agency charged with implementing the top item on Acosta’s policy agenda: an initiative to expand public-private apprenticeships.
“All the White House informed me was that at this time they weren’t going to be able to nominate me and they would not give me a reason why,” Bishop, who is now resuming his consultancy business, told Bloomberg BNA. Bishop said he spent the summer filling out White House paperwork for a planned nomination after being told that Acosta had selected him for the position.
Sources familiar with the process told Bloomberg BNA that Bishop was the only name on the list for the ETA, before the White House changed plans. That means a confirmed assistant secretary for employment and training is likely months away.
Bishop was the ETA’s No. 2 official for six years during the George W. Bush administration. He said he advised the White House earlier this year during the drafting of President Donald Trump’s June 15 executive order that tasked the ETA with writing new rules to remove government bureaucracy in the apprenticeship registration process.
“I would say that lack of ability to get appointed leadership into ETA could very well impact the timing and the launch of much of what they want to do with apprenticeship,” Bishop said. “I think Secretary Acosta does have a huge challenge on his hands, not only with ETA overall but specifically on the apprenticeship initiative.”
“We have not made any personnel announcements for this position,” a White House spokesman told Bloomberg BNA via email. The Labor Department did not provide a comment.
The other sources with knowledge of Bishop’s earlier candidacy could not confirm what part of his background check created an issue for the Trump administration. Bishop said he believes one of his clients is being investigated by the Labor Department’s inspector general, which could have caused concern in the White House. He also speculated that stakeholders who disagree with his plans to change the workforce system may have lobbied against his nomination.
I have no issues with the IRS, I have no issues paying subcontractors, I have no legal issues, nothing,” Bishop said. “I live my life 110 degrees on the ethical side of things.”
The change of plans on personnel comes as Acosta still lacks a Senate-confirmed deputy or administrator. ETA is responsible for carrying out the secretary’s effort to enhance worker skills to meet new job demands. The secretary has focused heavily on job training and apprenticeships in most of his public comments since he was sworn in less than six months ago.
“Throughout his campaign, as he met with a countless number of Americans, President Trump repeated his commitment to expand job opportunities here in America,” Acosta wrote during the apprenticeship EO launch in June. “Apprenticeships will be one of the ways that President Trump will deliver on his commitment.”
The apprenticeship push, which involves transferring standards to industry, unions, and trade groups, awaits specific policy plans from the DOL. The ETA is run mostly be career officials who are waiting for clear directions from a politically appointed leader. Acosta has appointed a chief of staff and two policy advisers to ETA this year.
While models vary, apprenticeships generally combine technical instruction with on-the-job learning, typically lasting four years.
In addition to housing the Office of Apprenticeship, ETA administers trade adjustment assistance for displaced workers, manages state unemployment insurance benefits, and certifies guestworker visas for employers. The ETA’s annual budget accounts for about three-quarters of the department’s overall allocation, with much of that money channeled to workforce programs across the country.
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