Workforce Investment Act:

States and Local Areas Have Developed Strategies to Assess Performance, but Labor Could Do More to Help

GAO-04-657: Published: Jun 1, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 1, 2004.

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Sigurd R. Nilsen
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With rising federal deficits and greater competition for public resources, it is increasingly important for federal programs, such as the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programs, to show results. This report examines (1) how useful WIA performance data are for gauging program performance; (2) what local areas are doing to manage their WIA performance and assess one-stops on a timely basis, and how states assist these efforts; and (3) the extent to which the Department of Labor is trying to improve WIA's performance measurement system and assess one-stop success.

WIA performance data provide a long-term national picture of outcomes, but these data offer little information about current performance and represent a small portion of job seekers who received WIA services. Unemployment Insurance wage records--the primary data source for tracking WIA performance--provide reliable outcome information over time. But they have shortcomings, such as not including some categories of workers, and considerable time lags before data are available. Many states rely on alternative data sources to fill gaps in the wage records. However, the time between when a participant receives services and when their outcomes are reported to Labor can range from about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years or longer. In addition, states' annual reports reflect only a small portion of job seekers who receive WIA services because of restrictions in the law and policies of Labor. With assistance from states, many local areas collect interim outcome information from former participants or employers and use other interim indicators to track WIA performance levels long before wage record data are available. However, states and local areas would like more help from Labor in disseminating best practices on interim performance measures. In addition, these efforts tell them little about the performance of their overall one-stop systems. Many states and local areas rely on other indicators--job seeker measures, employer measures, program partnership measures, and family and community indicators to assess their one-stops. Labor has taken steps to improve WIA's performance system and assess onestops, but could do more. Although Labor is studying adjustment methods that could better take into account local differences when negotiating performance levels, it has not committed to using such a method nationally. Labor also has efforts to improve the quality of WIA's performance data and is developing a set of common measures for one-stop partner programs. Yet as part of the common measures, Labor plans to restrict the use of alternative data. Labor has also delayed plans to conduct an impact evaluation and will not meet its statutory requirement to do so by 2005.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of September 2005, Congress has considered this issue. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee has forwarded a bill to the floor that would reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (S. 1021). The bill contains the requirement that states in their annual reports give the number of participants served under each level of service, including self-service only.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider requiring that information be collected and reported on all WIA participants, including those who only receive self-service and informational services, so that Congress may have a better understanding of the full reach of WIA and the one-stop system.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Labor issued final guidance on the common measures with Training and Employment Guidance Letter No. 28-04 on April 15, 2004. This guidance authorizes states to continue using supplemental data for filling any gaps in the UI wage records.

    Recommendation: To compensate for the impact of changes in the economy and to give states and local areas an equal opportunity to meet their performance levels, the Secretary of Labor should continue to allow the use of supplemental data for reporting outcomes, but develop more stringent guidance and monitoring of these data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Labor has two efforts to facilitate sharing promising practices on WIA performance: (1) the Performance Enhancement Project that provides technical assistance and training to help states troubleshoot performance issues and identify ways to maximize performance, and (2) an online website ( that allows states and local areas to share resources and best practices. There are currently 13 resources on the workforce3one website that address performance.

    Recommendation: To compensate for the impact of changes in the economy and to give states and local areas an equal opportunity to meet their performance levels, the Secretary of Labor should provide assistance to states and localities in developing and sharing promising practices on interim indicators for assessing WIA's performance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: As of July 2008, Labor has not developed an adjustment model or systematic method for all states to use to account for the variations in populations served and economic conditions and does not intend to develop such a model because it believes that the current process is adequate for negotiating performance levels with states.

    Recommendation: To compensate for the impact of changes in the economy and to give states and local areas an equal opportunity to meet their performance levels, the Secretary of Labor should develop an adjustment model or other systematic method to account for different populations and local economic conditions when negotiating performance levels.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 2007, Labor began conducting a non-experimental impact evaluation of WIA programs using state administrative data, which is expected to be completed by 12/31/2008. In addition, as of July 2008, Labor is starting to conduct a multisite, randomized control group evaluation of WIA-funded programs.

    Recommendation: To comply with statutory requirements and to help federal, state, and local policy makers understand what services are most effective for improving employment-related outcomes, the Secretary of Labor should expedite efforts to design and implement an impact evaluation of WIA services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor


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