Workforce Investment Act:

Labor Should Consider Alternative Approaches to Implement New Performance and Reporting Requirements

GAO-05-539: Published: May 27, 2005. Publicly Released: May 27, 2005.

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George A. Scott
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In a period of significant budget constraints, it is more vital than ever for federal programs to have good performance information. The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998 took a significant step in that direction by introducing greater accountability for employment and training programs than prior programs. WIA established performance measures to look at a broad array of participant outcomes such as job placement and retention, earnings, skill gains, and customer satisfaction. WIA also required 17 programs, funded by four different agencies, to centralize service delivery through a one-stop center system. More recently, as part of efforts to link program performance to the budget, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) introduced common performance measures--similar to some of the WIA measures--for most federally funded job training programs that share similar goals. The U.S. Department of Labor's (Labor) Employment and Training Administration (ETA) further defined the common measures for all programs it oversees and proposed a new, standardized reporting format, known as the ETA Management Information and Longitudinal Evaluation (EMILE) reporting system to facilitate reporting them. However, state workforce agencies and others raised substantial concerns about the timing and scope of the EMILE reporting system. Despite delaying EMILE, Labor recently took steps to move ahead with reporting changes for the common measures, requiring states to implement these changes by July 1, 2005. Given the importance of these issues and their potential impact on the quality of the performance data, Congress asked us to examine (1) states' concerns about implementing Labor's proposed EMILE reporting system and (2) the effect that the implementation of common measures and other new reporting changes might have on states' ability to collect data and report on WIA's performance.

In summary, we found that while many states supported streamlined reporting, 36 states indicated that implementing the EMILE system, as proposed, would be very burdensome. Most states indicated that launching EMILE would require as much or more effort than was required of them to meet WIA reporting requirements in 2000. Labor has underestimated the magnitude and type of changes EMILE would require and the resources states would need in order to implement it. Labor developed EMILE with limited consultation with state officials. While the use of the common measures could increase the comparability of outcome information across programs and provide a more complete picture of the one-stop system, states will face challenges in making the required changes. For example, states will be required to track all jobseekers who receive services at one-stop centers, although it is unclear how many states and local areas are prepared to do so. In addition, one of the common measures will replace the current WIA earnings measure for dislocated workers, which may be a disincentive for serving this population. Moreover, states have very little time to make the necessary changes before they must begin data collection and reporting using the new requirements. While Labor publicized its plans to adopt the common measures, states were notified only in late February that Labor planned to implement changes on July 1, 2005, and final guidance was not issued until April 15, 2005. In conclusion, Labor's initiatives to introduce common measures and a comprehensive reporting system could foster program integration and provide a better picture of WIA's reach, but Labor underestimated the cost, time, and effort required of states to make such changes. Ongoing consultation with states and pilot testing may have enhanced Labor's effort to move forward with EMILE. Labor has not provided guidance in a timely manner for states to implement the changes related to the common measures. Rushed implementation could negatively affect data quality and compromise the potential benefits of proposed changes. While some states have the capacity to collect and report data on all jobseekers, many others do not, and states and local areas need enough time to fully meet these requirements. Moreover, unless Labor ensures that states collect the data in a consistent manner, the information will not be comparable across states.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2008, Labor's revised Workforce Investment Streamlined Performance Reporting System (WISPR) was approved by OMB for implementation on July 1, 2009. WISPR has not been implemented because of challenges to the workforce investment system by the economic downturn and budgetary constraints. However, Labor is working with its partners and stakeholders to meet information and reporting needs associated with ARRA and reassessing its approach to performance reporting in light of amendments to the Trade Act of 1974 and impending WIA reauthorization.

    Recommendation: To ensure states' ability to implement proposed reporting system changes, Labor should consider alternative approaches to reach the goals of EMILE and perform an assessment that considers the costs and benefits.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2009, Labor has implemented an approach to collect summary information on all participants who access services under each of the workforce programs, including those who access self-services.

    Recommendation: To help states and local areas develop the capacity to track all jobseekers who use one-stop services in a consistent manner, Labor should use the first year as a test phase and work with states to identify promising practices in collecting and reporting this data, and provide technical assistance to states that do not have this capacity.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor


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