113th Congress Comes to a Close

December 19, 2014

113th Congress Comes to a Close

On December 16, the Senate adjourned for the year, marking the end of the 113th Congress. The past two years has been a period of major progress and sizeable challenges for the workforce development field. Most important, Congress in July 2014 passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), legislation to modernize our nation’s public workforce system. Following months of bipartisan negotiations, WIOA was passed on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis—415-6 in the House and 95-3 in the Senate.

WIOA’s passage came 16 years following passage of its predecessor, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The law reflects a number of the best practices that have been developed in the field over the past 16 years that NSC and our partners have long promoted and advocated for, including industry-led sector partnerships, career pathways, cross-program data and measurement, and job-driven investment. As states move to implement the law, these core strategies and practices are certain to stand out.

The 113th Congress also saw a number of vigorous debates over federal funding. Sequestration took effect in March 2013, triggering $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts. Months later, following a 17-day October 2013 government shutdown, Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) crafted a bipartisan budget agreement, the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA), which set topline spending levels for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, and provided $63 billion in sequester relief over two years. FY 2014 also marked the first time since 2012 that Congress was able to pass a Labor-HHS-Education funding bill, signaling a return to the normal appropriations process. Following the 2014 elections, Congress was able to pass an FY 2015 spending bill to fund the vast majority of the government through the end of the fiscal year. NSC weighed in with policymakers frequently during these federal funding debates.

In early 2014, Congress passed a Farm Bill that included significant new resources to expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Employment & Training (E&T) program. NSC worked closely with congressional staff to help expand the program, as well as with the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to implement the law. Congress also waded into comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), with the Senate passing bipartisan legislation in June 2013. National Skills Coalition weighed in with policymakers on CIR, proposing a skills strategy for comprehensive reform.

The past two years have also been critical for Administrative action on skills. During his January 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama called for action to “empower all Americans with the skills needed for in-demand jobs.” The President’s skills strategy included an across-the-board review of federal job-training programs, which was helmed by Vice President Biden. The Administration’s Job-Driven Training Action Plan, released over the summer, will bring to bear significant new resources and a new focus on job-driven training across federal agencies.

Looking ahead to the 114th Congress, there is still much to be done to strengthen our nation’s investments in skills. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee will have new leadership in presumptive-Chairman Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and presumptive-Ranking Member Senator Patty Murray, and the House Committee on Education & the Workforce will have a new Ranking Member, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) (Rep. John Kline (R-MN) will continue his tenure as chairman). Congress may attempt to reauthorize the Perkins Act, which funds career and technical education, as well as the Higher Education Act (HEA), and with it the Pell Grant program. Reauthorization of these pieces of legislation and others could provide opportunities to improve cross-program alignment and make federal investments more effective for U.S. workers and employers. There will also be opportunities to work with Congress to ensure that WIOA is funded at a level that ensures its successful implementation, as well as new opportunities to work with the Administration to implement its job-driven action plan and promote and expand job-driven strategies such as apprenticeship and industry partnerships.

Federal funding is certain to be a prominent issue in the 114th Congress as well. The BBA will have expired, meaning that absent congressional action, sequestration will return in FY 2016.

National Skills Coalition looks forward to working on these and other critical issues with the Administration and the 114th Congress in the new year.