The Scam of Federal Workforce Training Programs

An article headline in the tech industry magazine Dice Insights sounds like great news for unemployed or underemployed Americans – a Department of Labor (DOL) “workforce grant program could eliminate H-1B workers.”

Described by the writer as “designed to replace H-1B workers sourced from overseas with homegrown equivalents,” the H-1B One Workforce Grant Program sales pitch might be better than its future performance record.

“Our goal is to create seamless community partnerships to build career pathways for local job seekers to enter middle- to high-skilled occupations in cyber security, advanced manufacturing, and transportation sectors,” said John Pallasch, Assistant Secretary for DOL’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) in announcing last week that $150 million would be made available.

The One Workforce Grant program is part of the larger H-1B Skills Training Grants that were authorized by Section 414(c) of the American Competitiveness and Improvement Act of 1998. The mere fact that the funding is still needed more than two decades later is the most obvious sign that these retraining initiatives should be subject to far greater scrutiny.

The aim of the One Workforce program is to “upskill the present workforce and train a new generation of workers to grow the future workforce,” particularly in H-1B occupations. At first blush, it makes sense, but upon closer examination, several weaknesses become visible.

First, the effort feeds the ongoing myth of a skills shortage that necessitates importing foreign labor. Certainly, workers in industries like hospitality are facing long-term layoffs, but retraining will only help if the flow of H-1B and other foreign workers is stopped.

Second, the funding comes from H-1B user fees, so financing is directly tied to the much-abused visa program’s survival.

Lastly, the DOL’s own Office of Inspector General (OIG) has issued several reports documenting poor results for workers and little success reducing reliance on H-1B visa holders.   

In its 2002 Semi-Annual Report to Congress, DOL’s OIG noted that performance audits of several H-1B technical skills grants found some grantees “failed to achieve their intended employment outcomes,” while others “had questionable expenditures that could have been avoided had detailed subcontractor program and budget information been provided.”

Last year, Labor’s inspector general began a more comprehensive review to technical skills training (TST) programs to determine if their 2002 findings remained true. The audit also followed up on a 2002 report from the Government Accountability Office that also found misspending and inefficiencies in the training programs.

According to the September 2019 report, little had changed since 2002, except of course a growth in H-1B usage. The Employment and Training Administration failed to “provide reasonable assurance TST grantees provided training that resulted in participants obtaining and retaining jobs in H-1B occupations” as the program is intended to achieve.

“Systemic weaknesses in the grant award processes, grant oversight, and performance measurement indicated ETA did not design the program to ensure non H-1B training provided had a clear pathway to H-1B jobs as required by the grant solicitation,” said the OIG.

In addition, two grantees’ proposals “did not clearly explain how the non H-1B training they proposed would lead to H-1B jobs, and one grantee did not cite evidence that the targeted industry and/or occupations were ones that employers currently used H-1B visas.”

For decades, Americans have been told foreign workers have their jobs because they lack the necessary skills. For decades, politicians have run campaigns on the pledge to prepare the nation’s workers for the future and to reduce dependence on cheap labor. It is time for a serious discussion about ending the H-1B program, as well as feel-good programs that fail to deliver, and give every American what they need and want – an opportunity to improve their standing.

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