The Department of Education and the Workforce: Why Trump Officials Are Looking to Merge Two Agencies, With a Focus on Better Developing a Modern Workforce
The Trump Administration has proposed a radical plan to merge the Education and Labor departments into a single federal agency called the Department of Education and the Workforce. However, gaining congressional approval for this proposal seems unlikely due to opposition from Democrats, a divided Senate, and election year pressures. Officials from the Administration argue that the two departments have overlapping goals in workforce preparation, providing flexibility, and meeting workforce needs. Many other advanced and fast-growing countries organize their governments in a similar way, which enables better coordination between education and labor. The proposal suggests grouping K-12 programs into a single agency to enhance integration and coordination with higher education and workforce programs. Similarly, career and technical education, higher education programs, and job training programs would be combined into an "American Workforce and Higher Education Administration." Additionally, the Office for Civil Rights and worker protection agencies would be merged into one enforcement office. Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, highlighted that both departments have the same objective of preparing people for the workforce, making a case for merging them. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos praised the plan for reducing the federal role in education, while some critics argue that it detracts from the Education Department’s primary missions of early education and civil rights. Congressional reactions to the proposal were divided, with some Republicans supporting it as a necessary overhaul and others calling for a careful review. Democrats who would need to approve the change were strongly critical, stating that there is no evidence to suggest that merging the departments would improve outcomes for students or workers.
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Senator Patty Murray, the leading Democrat on both the HELP Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee with oversight of the departments, immediately criticized the idea, deeming it "unrealistic, unhelpful, and futile."
In a statement released on Thursday, Murray stated, "Democrats and Republicans in Congress have consistently rejected President Trump’s proposals to significantly cut investments in education, healthcare, and workers. He should anticipate the same outcome for this latest attempt to undermine the effectiveness of government services."
Over the last 24 hours, members of the Trump administration have engaged in conversations with Congress in order to express their willingness to engage in constructive dialogue and bring about meaningful change, instead of resorting to the same bureaucratic approach that leads to inaction, according to Weichert.
For an extended period of time, Republicans have advocated for reducing the size of the department, arguing that many of its duties are not constitutionally appropriate for the federal government. The U.S. Department of Education was established by President Jimmy Carter and a divided Congress in the late 1970s.
Neal McCluskey, the director of the libertarian Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, described the move as "slightly encouraging" since it would eliminate a Cabinet-level executive whose sole responsibility is to advocate for more federal education programs. However, he believes that more needs to be done to completely end these efforts.
"It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s only a small step towards where they should actually be," he asserted.
The comprehensive government reorganization plan consists of 32 specific proposals, one of which involves transferring certain food assistance programs, such as the supplemental nutrition assistance program and the nutrition program for women, infants, and children (WIC), from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, the plan suggests renaming it as the Department of Health and Public Welfare.
Some individuals have pointed out that the administration has been actively seeking to reduce the number of Americans receiving this assistance for quite some time, and they find the term "welfare" to be derogatory.
Regarding the proposals, Weichert emphasized, "Our main focus is the substance and content of the proposals. It is common in Washington to politicize matters and overlook the true intentions and motivations for change. I hope that we do not get distracted by political debates when we are striving for practical solutions."
The Education Department currently has an annual budget of approximately $70 billion and a staff of about 3,800 members. In contrast, the Labor Department, most well-known for its monthly jobs report, has a budget of roughly $12 billion and a staff consisting of around 14,000 individuals.
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