Jul 17, 2018

The proposed merger of the Department of Education and Department of Labor: What you should know

In late June 2018 the Trump Administration announced a wide-ranging plan to reorganize the federal Executive Branch bureaucracy which comprises 15 departments. The reform plan titled “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century” outlines 32 proposed organizational alignments, including the merger of the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Labor (DOL) into a single cabinet-level agency to be named the Department of Education and the Workforce (DEW).

The DOE is one of the smallest governmental agencies, with 3,900 employees while the DOL employs about 15,000. These two agencies already work closely due to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) passed in 2014 under President Obama. The WIOA is designed to help job seekers access employment, education, training and support services to succeed in the labor market and matches employers with skilled workers. The Trump Administration initially proposed substantial cuts to the job training programs within the WIOA and shifted those costs onto states, localities and employers. However, the February 2018 budget included an increase in funding. 

The proposed merger of DOE and DOL may help streamline the federal organizational chart but the restructuring on its own is not likely to save much money. There is already a movement to reduce the size of the administrative agencies. The DOE, for example, has shrunk by 10 percent since January 2017. It is not clear whether the proposed reorganized DEW would result in further size reductions. The revamped DEW would include four main sub-agencies focusing on K-12, Higher Education (titled the American Workforce and Higher Education Administration), Enforcement and Research. The Higher Education Administration itself would include agencies that focus on expanded access to postsecondary education but also additional offices that deal with vocational rehabilitation in employment, youth workforce development and a separate veterans’ employment office to ensure that veterans continue to receive priority of service in the workforce.

Will the proposed merger result in greater efficiency?
Although it makes sense for certain responsibilities to be housed under one roof, some functions may not be a good fit. Enforcement is one example. The DOE and the DOL both have investigative and enforcement departments but it does not appear that employers would see any real improvements in efficiency when working with the new proposed agency on occupational safety or wage/hour violations.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is an independent federal agency that handles administrative and judicial enforcement of the federal civil rights laws. The EEOC would not be impacted in any proposed reorganization and is not mentioned in the government reform plan.

The plan is just a proposal and it needs Congressional approval. 
It cannot be accomplished solely by a signature on an executive order. If history is any indication, the chances for adoption of the plan are very slim. In 1995, the effort to merge the Department of Education, Department of Labor and the EEOC fell flat. Just last year the attempt to merge the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and the EEOC had no Congressional support and was unsuccessful. One skeptic commented the proposed reform plan is a “solution in search of a problem.” 

Although the current Secretary of Education has commented favorably on the reorganization plan, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has been conspicuously silent which suggests that the merger proposal is not a high priority. Acosta may have reservations about any plan that would risk diluting the DOL’s worker protection and law enforcement missions. Some critics believe that a revamped organizational structure will emphasize vocational workforce training at the expense of liberal arts education. Unions may look at the proposal as an elaborate means to remove the word “labor” from the federal government lexicon. The administration has promised to provide additional details in the coming months.

You can review the full Reform Plan by clicking here.

Chuhak & Tecson will monitor the developments as they occur. In the meantime, contact an attorney from the Employment Practice Group with any questions you may have. 

This Chuhak & Tecson, P.C. communication is intended only to provide information regarding developments in the law and information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute advice regarding legal problems and should not be relied upon as such.

Client alert authored by: Daniel J. Fumagalli, Principal