Trade Adjustment Assistance:

Labor Should Take Action to Ensure Performance Data Are Complete, Accurate and Accessible

GAO-06-496: Published: Apr 25, 2006. Publicly Released: May 25, 2006.

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In the current tight budgetary environment, program performance is likely to be an increasingly significant factor used to help policymakers assess programs and determine funding levels. Given concerns over the quality of performance data for the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program and the importance of having meaningful information to assess program performance, we examined (1) whether the TAA performance data provide a credible picture of the program's performance, (2) what TAA performance data the Department of Labor (Labor) makes available to the public and states and the usefulness of the data for managing the program, and (3) what Labor is doing to address issues with the quality of TAA data submitted by states.

The performance information that Labor makes available on the TAA program does not provide a complete and credible picture of the program's performance. Only half the states are including all participants, as required, in the performance data they submit to Labor--states were more likely to report participants who received training than those who received other benefits and services but not training. In addition, many states are not using all available data sources to determine participants' employment outcomes. This may result in lower reported outcomes because states may be inaccurately recording some workers as unemployed who actually have jobs. To compile their performance data, some states are using manual processes or automated systems that lack key capabilities to help minimizes errors, but many states have plans to improve their systems' capabilities. Labor reports data on TAA activity levels, services provided to TAA participants, and key performance measures. The performance data may be useful for providing a long-term national picture of program outcomes, but it represents participants who left the program up to 30 months earlier and, thus, is not useful for gauging the TAA program's current performance. Also, the performance information is not displayed using categories that would be informative to policymakers, such as type of service received and industry of dislocation. Most states find the performance information they receive from Labor to be at least moderately useful, but many want more information. Labor has taken steps to improve the quality of TAA performance data, but issues remain. In 2003, Labor began requiring states to validate their data, and most states reported that this increased awareness of data quality at the state and local level. However, the validation process does not address the problem of participants being excluded from the performance data. In fiscal year 2006, Labor instituted a set of common measures, and many states reported they are experiencing delays in implementing all required changes. States also expressed interest in receiving more opportunities to share lessons learned on topics relevant to TAA data quality.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help ensure that TAA participant data reported by states are consistent, complete, and accurate, Labor should provide states with opportunities to share lessons learned with other states on issues that may affect data quality.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOL, during CY 2009, OTAA focused significant attention on data quality to prepare states for the changes required under the new reporting system required under the 2009 Amendments. Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) data quality requirements were the focus of two national performance conferences during CY 2009, and also major topics of discussion at six regional TAA training sessions to implement new program requirements and discuss data systems and lessons learned on issues that affect data quality. Extensive technical assistance was also provided to states through periodic or regularly scheduled conference and one-on-one calls.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that TAA participant data reported by states are consistent, complete, and accurate, Labor should clarify through guidance and other communications with ensure that the core monitoring guide currently under development for regional office site visits includes guidance for assessing whether states' data collection processes for performance reporting capture all participants.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOL reported that with the reauthorization of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program under 2009 amendments, this guide, which was in final clearance, was withdrawn for revision to reflect the expanded program. The Office of Trade Adjustment Assistance expects to work on the revision of the monitoring guide during CY2011 to reflect new regulatory provisions currently under development.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that TAA participant data reported by states are consistent, complete, and accurate, Labor should clarify through guidance and other communications with the documentation needed to verify the training completion date.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to DOL, Employment and Training Administration (ETA) issued formal guidance on Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) reporting including instructions on the exit date in Training and Employment Guidance Letter (TEGL) 6-09, and ETA conducted training on the reporting instructions for all 50 states, including on how to report the exit date. However, GAO reviewed TEGL 6-09, which includes the 2009 update to the handbook for reporting TAA data, and did not find anything regarding the documentation needed to verify the training completion date.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that TAA participant data reported by states are consistent, complete, and accurate, Labor should clarify through guidance and other communications with states that all participants who exit the program should be included in the Trade Act Participant Report.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Labor's Employment and Training Administration (ETA) revised the Trade Act Participant Report (TAPR) General Reporting Instructions and Specifications that are used by states for reporting TAA participant data. The record layout specifications include a paragraph that states that a TAPR file should be opened when an individual begins receiving any TAA benefit or service, and it clarifies the definition of benefit or service. The new specifications make it clear that participants who receive a waiver, Trade Adjustment Assistance payments, and other allowances should be included in the TAPR.

    Recommendation: To make TAA performance information more useful for program management, Labor should provide this information by the type of services received by TAA participants.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOL reported that OTAA implemented a searchable data base on its website. However, GAO reviewed the website and found that it shows only numbers of participants receiving the different services and does not show performance data by type of services received. GAO also searched DOL's website for other Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) performance data and did not find any TAA performance data by type of service received.

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