On June 21 the Trump administration announced its proposal to merge the Department of Labor and the Department of Education into one overarching department. Mick Mulvaney, the White House Budget Director, said that Ivanka Trump’s emphasis on workforce training was the inspiration behind the proposed merger. Mulvaney said in statement that the departments are, “doing the same thing.”
Currently the Department of Labor is in charge of an array of service, including worker protection, employment & training administration, veterans’ employment & training services, and many other functions. Conversely, the Department of Education handles K-12 programs, higher education programs, federal student aid, the Office for Civil Rights, and others. In layman’s terms, the DOL is charged with protecting workers via training those out of work and maintaining the rights of those who are employed, while the DOE is responsible for educating students between kindergarten and 12th grade, and providing opportunities for higher education. This is a very watered down version of what each department does, but it should give some context.
This flow chart, that was included in the 132-page proposal, breaks down which programs and services will be combined to form, what the proposal refers to as “four main sub-agencies.” One would oversee K-12 education. One would focus on preparing people for the workforce, via college and job training programs. One, called the Enforcement Agency, would combine the worker protection aspects from the DOL with the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights. The last would be focused on policy research and development.
There has been a mixed reception to the proposal. If enacted, it would be one of the biggest restructures of government since President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. But many feel that, with the current political climate as it is, a change as large as this has a low likelihood of getting congressional approval. That being said, if it does continue down the legislative track, it is important to understand the pros and cons of a proposal like this.
Some of the positive attributes touted in the proposal are efficiency and streamlining. It states:
“The workforce development program consolidation would centralize and better coordinate Federal efforts to train the American workforce, reduce administrative costs, and make it easier for states and localities to run programs to meet the comprehensive needs of their workforce.”
It also says that it will aim to better train and prepare people to go from school to education in a more cohesive manner.
Education experts also saw the value in bringing together experts from different fields to work together in one place. Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, weighed in in support of the proposal. In a statement she said:
“This proposal will make the federal government more responsive to the full range of needs faced by American students, workers, and schools…I urge Congress to work with the Administration to make this proposal a reality.”
But many question DeVos’ motives. President Trump, who selected DeVos to head the Department of Education, said many times during his campaign that he wanted to eliminate the Department of Education. DeVos, too, has historically been in favor of shrinking and restructuring the department which she heads. With this in mind, many have been wondering about the real agenda behind this restructuring.
Additionally, each department has many niche sub-agencies that do not transfer well. For example, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is responsible for such a small and unique group of workers that it is easy to see how it could get lost in the shuffle.
The Enforcement sub-agency would combine the Office of Civil Rights from DOE with many offices from DOL. Worker Protection and International Labor and Affairs are conveniently grouped with OCR in one little box in the new reorganized department flowchart. These agencies themselves include sub-groups such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Wage and Hour Division, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), and many others. Departments like these have very little overlap with anything related to education. Adding the Office for Civil Rights and the International Labor Affairs Bureau to this department will increase the likelihood that many alleged violations of workers’ rights will go uninvestigated.
These are the essential facts of this proposed merger. If it ends up making the transition from educational institutions to the workforce easier, it will be a good thing. But political gridlock, questionable motives, and (better) logical restructuring are obstacles that currently must be surmounted.