The first session of the 110th United States Congress was something of a mixed bag for the workplace learning and performance profession.
On the one hand, Congress made significant progress on legislation to reauthorize higher education programs, to provide job training assistance for workers dislocated by foreign trade, and to boost science and engineering education and research.
But it failed to pass, or even introduce, legislation to renew the nation's public workforce system and to reauthorize elementary and secondary education programs under the No Child Left Behind Act. With a national election on the horizon, it is possible that legislative activity will slow to a crawl in 2008, leaving unfinished business for the next Congress to undertake.
In August 2007, Congress passed the America COMPETES Act, a significant measure designed to increase investment in research and education in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The legislation requires the President to establish a Council on Innovation and Competitiveness, which would be responsible for developing a comprehensive agenda to enhance U.S. competitiveness.
In addition, the bill reauthorizes the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology through 2010, and provides significant investments in research and education programs throughout the federal government.
On October 31, 2007, the House of Representatives passed legislation to reauthorize and expand the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which currently provides job training, healthcare, and other benefits to manufacturing workers who lose their jobs due to imports or offshoring. The bill expands eligibility to workers in the service and government sectors, and makes it easier for all workers to be certified as eligible for benefits.
The Senate has not yet acted on a similar bill, introduced by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), but action is anticipated in early 2008. The Bush administration has expressed dissatisfaction with the House bill, citing added costs, but it is unclear whether the president would veto the final bill.
The House also appears to be making progress toward reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which covers financial assistance for colleges and students. The House Education and Labor Committee unanimously approved a measure to extend the law for five years, setting the stage for smooth passage on the House floor. The Senate passed its bill last July, and it is likely that final legislation could emerge early this year. The president has not indicated whether he would sign the measure, but has not threatened a veto.
The relatively swift advance of higher education legislation comes in the absence of other needed action. Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative George Miller (D-CA), chairs of the key Senate and House Committees, respectively, have both floated draft language to renew programs under the No Child Left Behind Act. Strong resistance from both parties, however, has led both chambers to delay action until at least 2008.
In addition, neither the House nor the Senate has introduced bills to extend the Workforce Investment Act, which governs federally-supported job training, employment assistance, and adult education programs. The law has not been reauthorized since it expired in 2003, and even the appropriations process has been unkind to WIA. The spending bill for the Department of Labor, which administers the program, included a $245 million cut for adult, dislocated worker, and youth training programs. While the president vetoed the measure, prospects for renewing and expanding the program look dim for 2008.