The Trump administration today proposed to merge the Department of Labor into the Department of Education.
While some have suggested that the new department be christened the “Department of Child Labor,” the Trump administration has come up with the “Department of Education and the Workforce.”
Some may be experiencing a sense of déjà vu at this name change. In 1995, the newly elected Republican majority in the House of Representatives changed the name of what had always been the Education and Labor Committee to the Education and Workforce Committee. Democrats replaced “Workforce” with “Labor” when they regained the majority in 2007, and the Republicans duly changed it back to “Workforce”when they regained the majority again in 2011.
In short, the word “labor” sounds too much like “labor movement” and those nasty, unpleasant, trouble-making labor unions.
We’ll see what happens when the Democrats retake the majority after the November elections.
Some have suggested that they could christen the new agency the “Department of Child Labor”
While the alleged purpose of this merger is to consolidate vocational skills training programs in one agency, the real goal is, as the Washington Post describes, to build “on Trump’s pledge to shrink the size and scope of the federal government, a long-sought goal of conservatives.” And of course, draining the swamp:
“This effort, along with the recent executive orders on federal unions, are the biggest pieces so far of our plan to drain the swamp,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget who has led the 14-month reorganization effort, said in a statement. “The federal government is bloated, opaque, bureaucratic, and inefficient,” he added.
Now, there are several reasons why this is a bad idea. Chris Lu, Deputy Secretary of Labor during Obama’s second term notes that only parts of DOL and Education deal with worker training. Most of the Department of Labor consists of enforcement agencies like OSHA, MSHA, Wage & Hour and OFCCP that protect workers’ health and safety, pay, benefits and anti-discrimination rights.
And while neither OSHA, nor MSHA, nor enforcement were mentioned by Mulvaney, the idea of turning OSHA and MSHA into educational agencies that just provide education, training and fact sheets to employers is probably appealing to Republicans and the business community.
Seth Harris, who was Deputy Secretary of Labor under Obama’s first term, calls the proposal “a solution in search of a problem” and predicts that it’s not going to happen. Any major reorganizations of Cabinet departments require Congressional approval — which means 60 votes in the Senate — and that’s not going to happen any time soon.
These type of major reorganizations rarely succeed because there are too many powerful organizations that have an interest in maintaining the status quo. Lu notes that “there are also training programs at HHS, Interior, USDA, EPA, VA, DOD, DOJ. Shifting all of those programs would cause a firestorm on Congress and with outside groups.”
The National Employment Law Project points out that the Trump administration’s track record on labor issues doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that this proposal is being done in the best interests of workers:
This latest half-baked idea is just one more betrayal of the very workers Donald Trump pledged to put front and center when he took the oath of office. Since then, his administration has—among other things–relaxed protections for workers’ retirement savings, weakened overtime pay rights, attacked workers’ unions, rolled back important health and safety protections that would protect workers from hazardous substances on the job, and pushed through a massive tax bill that further enriches corporations and the nation’s wealthiest at the expense of workers and their families.
So if swamp draining is the goal, I have a few suggestions. Merge ethically challenged Cabinet officers like Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, Wilbur Ross, Ben Carson and Betsy DeVos with the unemployment office (even though only Pruitt would probably need the assistance.) Then get these agencies back to accomplishing their missions: protecting workers, the environment, public housing and public schools) and, as Chris Lu says, “fill vacant positions with competent people, provide agencies with sufficient funding, and stop denigrating federal employees. ”
This blog was originally published on June 21, 2018 at Confined Space. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).