The Wisdom of Trump’s Plan to Merge the Departments of Education and Labor


While his efforts in these regard haven’t received many headlines, President Trump has put forward proposal after proposal to make the federal government’s work on education policy less costly, less intrusive, more logical, and more effective. His latest idea — a proposal to merge the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor — epitomizes the president’s approach.

In the first year and a half of his presidency, Trump’s major education forays have involved budget proposals to eliminate non-performing federal programs. For example, earlier this year the administration proposed a $3.6 billion — or 5.3 percent — reduction from current federal discretionary education spending levels.

Among the proposed cuts is the $1.2 billion 21st Century Learning Center program, which the administration noted has failed to achieve its goal of “helping students, especially those from low-performing schools, meet challenging State academic standards.” “Billions and billions of dollars,” President Trump argued, “are being wasted on activities that are not delivering results for hardworking American taxpayers.”

Yet, simply cutting this or that program doesn’t get to the bigger challenge of reorganizing the federal government’s education efforts so they are more efficient, accountable, and effective. The new proposal by the Trump administration to merge the Education and Labor departments addresses inherent inefficiencies and promotes logical organizational reforms.

In its rollout of the president’s reorganization proposals, which cover not only the Education-Labor merger, but also many other departments and programs, the Office of Management and Budget says: “Organizational decisions should be made and executed to create the most value for taxpayers and the customers of Federal services, not based on outdated legal structures or historical precedent.”

It has been clear to many that the responsibilities of the Education and Labor departments overlap.

For instance, the Pacific Research Institute’s 2018 report, “An American Education Agenda”, points out that the Education Department’s vocational education programs could be administered by the Labor Department. And in fact, the president’s proposed name for the new merged federal department, Education and the Workforce, underscores the natural link between education and workforce development.

Yet, despite this natural link, OMB says “the two departments operate in silos, inhibiting the Federal Government’s ability to address the skill needs of the American people in a coordinated manner.” The result “has been the creation of a complicated web of funding streams for States and localities to administer.”

The new merged department would “reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, streamline access and better integrate education and workforce programs.” Under the merger, four main sub-entities would be created: (1) K-12, (2) Higher Education/Workforce Development, (3) Enforcement, and (4) Research/Evaluation/Administration.

How would such a re-organization actually reduce duplication and save taxpayer dollars?

Take, for example, the Higher Education/Workforce Development agency. For years, the Government Accountability Office has identified workforce development “as an area of duplication, fragmentation, and overlap.” By melding higher education and workforce development under the same umbrella, OMB says that the current status quo of 40 workforce development programs at 15 agencies would be reduced by more than half to 16 programs at seven agencies.

More details will be needed, however, to determine the exact fiscal impact of the merger. OMB’s document does not include, for instance, the exact reduction in federal workers caused by the merger.

Also, some conservatives worry that merging the two departments will push the federal government into the business of determining people’s careers. The administration counters by saying that the president’s “reorganization plan will make the Federal Government more responsive and accountable to the American people.”

So, the devil will be in the details as the administration rolls out more specifics. However, as Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., chair of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, observed, the “federal government is long overdue for a serious overhaul.” That is something upon which most Americans outside Washington can agree.

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Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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