NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Folly of Federal Training

May 4, 2012

In his State of the Union address President Obama proposed an array of new federal job training programs.  While this was one of the more popular parts of his speech, history shows us that Uncle Sam has a long and dismal training record, says James Bovard in The Freeman.

The Left would be quick to respond that new training programs with unique methods and priorities will succeed where previous efforts failed.  However, the government's track record suggests that there are fundamental flaws in government-provided job training that destines it for failure.  Consider:

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, with his Works Progress Administration (WPA), fathered modern government training and employment programs, yet by 1938 the WPA was widely recognized as an embarrassment and an utter waste of government resources.
  • The WPA would be resurrected in the Area Redevelopment Act (ARA) of 1961, dedicated to diverting federal funds to low economic growth areas to increase employment.
  • When this was found ineffective by the General Accounting Office (GAO) (the ARA enrolled only 1,300 workers in fields to which their training was related), Congress passed the Manpower Development and Training Act (MDTA) to help workers replaced by machine automation.
  • In a 1972 report the GAO concluded that these federal manpower programs were failing on every score.
  • Faced with a confusing hodgepodge of floundering training programs, Congress passed the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) in 1973 in response to the GAO's finding.  Yet CETA continued many of the same policies as MDTA, awarding even larger grants to the same contractors and making the same mistakes under a different acronym.
  • Among its follies, CETA spent over $175 million on art projects, Maryland CETA workers offered free rides to the welfare office, and New York CETA workers busied themselves attaching fake doors to old buildings to beautify the city.
  • Widely recognized as a joke at best and a nepotistic opportunity to employ campaign supporters at worst, CETA was replaced in 1982 by the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA).
  • Over its lifetime (lasting until 1998), JTPA had a similar track record.

Government job training efforts are plagued by inefficiencies and failing priorities, failing to train enrollees properly or preparing them for jobs that don't exist.  The failures of the WPA, ARA, MDTA, CETA and JTPA undermine confidence in President Obama's training program.

Source: James Bovard, "The Folly of Federal Training," The Freeman, May 2012.

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