Trade Adjustment Assistance:

Trends, Outcomes, and Management Issues in Dislocated Worker Programs

GAO-01-59: Published: Oct 13, 2000. Publicly Released: Oct 13, 2000.

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Concerns about the effects of the globalization of national economies and the rapid pace of economic change have focused attention on federal programs designed to assist U.S. workers displaced by foreign trade and increased imports. GAO reviewed two programs run by the Department of Labor. The Trade Adjustment Assistance Program (TAA) and the North American Free Trade Agreement Transitional Adjustment Assistance Program (NAFTA-TAA) have spent more than $1.3 billion in the past five years to help workers make the transition to new jobs, but it is unclear how effective these programs are in achieving their goals. Limited data indicate that 75 percent of workers who left the programs found jobs, but that many earned far less than their prior salaries. Training participation rates for both programs are low due to such factors as low unemployment rates and a healthy economy. GAO identified several factors that affected the delivery of services, including: (1) non-standardized eligibility criteria, (2) open-ended training enrollment, and (3) overall program administration. Further review of available data indicates that weak internal controls may result in the payment of benefits to ineligible beneficiaries.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Within the Trade Act of 2002, Congress took action on this Matter for Consideration by inserting language in Sec. 116(b), amending the Trade Act of 1974 to permit workers to receive payments during breaks in training lasting up to 30 days. This change will permit workers dislocated by trade to complete their training programs and continue to receive income benefits during unavoidable training breaks.

    Matter: As part of its current deliberations about consolidating or restructuring the TAA and NAFTA-TAA programs, Congress may wish to consider whether workers who experience an unavoidable break in training of more than 14 days (such as semester breaks) should continue to receive income benefits.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In passing the Trade Act of 2002, Congress took action on these Matters for Consideration by inserting language to standardize the training enrollment deadline for trade-affected workers. This change was inserted in Section 114(b), which amended the Trade Act of 1974. Congress also inserted language refining training waiver policies for certified workers in Section 115, which also amended the Trade Act of 1974. Finally, Congress repealed separate TAA and NAFTA-TAA programs (Section 123) and amended the Act to expedite review of petitions by the Secretary of Labor, reducing the time from 60 to 40 days.

    Matter: Congress may also wish to simplify the administration of the TAA and NAFTA-TAA programs by standardizing: (1) time frames for workers to enter training; (2) training waiver policies for certified workers; and (3) time frames for completing certification investigations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Labor reports that it identified reports from 31 states that included petitions that had been denied. These states were asked to review their reports to determine whether these were data entry errors or if benefits were wrongly paid. As of March 2003, none of the states had identified any wrongly-paid benefits, according to the Department. Furthermore, the Department stated that it has corrected all Form 563 errors that it has identified. Note: ETA form 563 expires on May 30, 2006, and has been revised in light of new program requirements contained in the Trade Act of 2002.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of the TAA and NAFTA-TAA programs in helping workers displaced by international trade adjust to changed economic conditions, the Secretary of Labor should establish more effective internal controls and improve oversight with regard to benefit payments by states in order to prevent workers ineligible for benefits from receiving them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Labor reports that it has taken steps to ensure more timely certification of TAA and NAFTA-TAA petitions. This includes time limits within which investigations are to be submitted to the certifying officer. Furthermore, these time limits are included in the investigator and supervisory performance standards. The Department also reports that it is in the process of hiring contract staff to assist investigators and holding special internal meetings to streamline the certification approval process.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of the TAA and NAFTA-TAA programs in helping workers displaced by international trade adjust to changed economic conditions, the Secretary of Labor should establish procedures that will enable the Department to certify workers for TAA and NAFTA-TAA within required time frames.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Labor revised its Trade Act Participant Report (TAPR) to track participant outcomes in Trade Act programs. The revised TAPR was implemented by TEGL 11-00 and uses wage records to show post-program reemployment and compute wage replacement percentages. States also now provide TAPR reports to a Department of Labor website that incorporates an edit check program that permits immediate feedback to the state on data quality and apparent errors, with follow-on provided by regional Department of Labor officials, as warranted.

    Recommendation: To improve the effectiveness of the TAA and NAFTA-TAA programs in helping workers displaced by international trade adjust to changed economic conditions, the Secretary of Labor should establish an effective performance measurement system to track participant outcomes and then disseminate that information to the states and localities so they can better serve participants.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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