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Policy Update: A Workforce for the 21st Century

This month, as I travel around the district and hear Arkansans’ thoughts on important issues facing our country, I want to take the time update you on issues on which Congress has been working.  This week, I want to talk about legislation that will strengthen the U.S. labor force and keep American businesses competitive. 

In 1998, Congress passed the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) to consolidate and improve employment, training, and vocational rehabilitation programs in an effort to align the skills of American workers with the needs of our businesses.  President Bill Clinton signed WIA (P.L. 105-220) into law on August 7, 1998. 

As you might imagine, the global economy and the needs of American companies have changed dramatically since that time, yet our workforce-development and job-training programs have failed to keep pace.

Last month, the House and Senate came together and reached agreement on H.R. 803, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).  The bill represents a bipartisan, bicameral agreement to streamline workforce-development and job-training activities and eliminate duplicative programs.  It also improves transparency and accountability within the programs.  President Obama signed the WIOA into law on July 22, 2014, enacting the first reforms to our workforce system in 15 years.

At a time when Congress has not been able to agree on much, I am pleased we were able to set aside our differences and work together to craft a bill that makes much-needed reforms to address the workforce skills gap and to better prepare American workers for today’s jobs.  But I will be the first to admit that it’s not enough.  We must do much more to grow our economy and get Americans back to work. 

So far this congress, the House has passed 43 broad-ranging jobs bills to do just that, but the Senate refuses to consider them.  I realize the Senate doesn’t agree with everything we do in the House, but the House-passed bills aren’t “take-it-or-leave-it” offers.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should give senators a chance to amend and vote on the bills.  Then, the House and Senate can convene a conference committee, where members from both chambers come together to work out the differences between the bills and reach an agreement.  That’s how the legislative process is supposed to work.    

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