Reemployment Services: DOL Could Better Support States in Targeting Unemployment Insurance Claimants for Services

GAO-18-633 Published: Sep 04, 2018. Publicly Released: Sep 05, 2018.
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Highlights

What GAO Found

Nationwide, four key federally funded workforce programs helped states provide reemployment services, such as career counseling and job search assistance, to millions of unemployment insurance (UI) claimants, according to data from July 2015 through June 2016, the most recent period available (see table). The six selected states GAO reviewed in-depth reported using these key programs to support their efforts to help claimants return to work. Selected state officials described skills assessments, job search assistance, and interview and resume workshops as the types of services they use to connect UI claimants to jobs quickly. Officials also described varying service delivery approaches, with some of the selected states emphasizing the use of online services, while others relied to a greater extent on in-person services.

Key Federally Funded Workforce Programs Helping States Provide Reemployment Services to Unemployment Insurance (UI) Claimants, July 2015 through June 2016

Program

Services provided

UI claimants served

Wagner-Peyser Employment Service

Non-training services, including career counseling, job listings, job search assistance, and referrals to employers

5 million participated

Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessment (RESEA)

Services including assessment of claimant's continued eligibility for UI and development of individual reemployment plan

1.1 million scheduled to receive services

WIOAa Dislocated Worker

Training, such as occupational skills training, and services, including career counseling and job search assistance

311,000 finished participating

WIOAa Adult

299,000 finished participating

Source: GAO analysis of Department of Labor (DOL) data. I GAO-18-633.

aWorkforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

According to a 2014 national questionnaire to states, most states used a statistical system to identify UI claimants who are most likely to exhaust their benefits and need assistance returning to work (known as profiling). Six of the nine states GAO reviewed used statistical systems and three used non-statistical approaches. GAO identified several concerns with the Department of Labor's (DOL) oversight and support of state UI profiling systems:

Although a 2007 DOL-commissioned study found that some statistical systems may not perform well, DOL has not collected the information needed to identify states at risk of poor profiling system performance.

Some selected states have faced technical challenges in implementing and updating their statistical systems. However, DOL does not have a process for identifying and providing technical assistance to states at risk of poor system performance or those facing technical challenges. Instead, it only provides assistance to those states that request it.

While states have latitude to choose their preferred profiling approach, DOL's 1994 guidance encourages all states to use statistical systems. Because DOL has not updated this guidance to ensure that it clearly communicates all available profiling system options, some states may not be aware that they have greater flexibility in choosing an option that best suits their needs.

Why GAO Did This Study

In 2017, the UI program provided about $30 billion in temporary income support to 5.7 million claimants who became unemployed through no fault of their own. The federal government provides various resources states can use to help UI claimants achieve reemployment. GAO was asked to review how states identify and serve claimants who need such assistance.

This report examines, among other things, (1) what key federal programs and approaches states used to help UI claimants return to work, and (2) how states used profiling systems to identify claimants who are most likely to exhaust their benefits and need assistance returning to work. GAO reviewed relevant federal laws and guidance; analyzed the most recent available national data on UI claimant participation in key workforce programs, from July 2015 through June 2016; interviewed officials from DOL, six states with key reemployment practices, and three additional states with a variety of profiling practices; and reviewed national studies examining state profiling systems.

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Recommendations

GAO recommends that DOL (1) systematically collect sufficient information to identify states at risk of poor profiling system performance, (2) develop a process for providing risk-based technical assistance to such states, and (3) update guidance to clarify state profiling options. DOL agreed with these recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Labor The Secretary of Labor should systematically collect sufficient information on state profiling systems, possibly through DOL's new UI state self-assessment process, to identify states at risk of poor profiling system performance. For instance, DOL could collect information on challenges states have experienced using and maintaining their profiling systems, planned changes to the systems, or state processes for assessing the systems' performance. (Recommendation 1)
Open
The Department of Labor agreed with this recommendation and said it would take action to address it. While DOL reported in June 2020 that it had made significant progress in implementing plans to revise its UI state self-assessment tool, in July 2021, officials reported that the updated tool would retain existing questions about state profiling systems. Our 2018 report noted that the tool asked basic profiling system questions (for instance, about system type and date of last update), but did not solicit other information that could help DOL identify states at risk of poor system performance, such as whether states experienced challenges maintaining their systems (e.g., due to staff turnover) or how they assessed system performance. Without updating the tool's questions, DOL is likely to face challenges using the tool to identify states at risk of poor system performance. In July 2020, DOL also reported that it had developed a new profiling model monitoring tool, and that the agency was developing training for regional staff to begin using the tool during monitoring reviews later in the year. We will monitor the status of DOL's efforts to train staff and implement this tool and update the status of our recommendation as appropriate.
Department of Labor The Secretary of Labor should develop a process to use information on state risks of poor profiling system performance to provide technical assistance to states that need to improve their systems. DOL may also wish to tailor its technical assistance based on state service delivery goals and technical capacity. (Recommendation 2)
Open
The Department of Labor agreed with this recommendation and said it would take action to address it. In June 2021, DOL said that many of its planned activities are dependent on when states can begin the agency's new UI state self-assessment process (which must first go through public notice and comment), but that the agency was also compiling information included in FY 2021 RESEA state plans and would use that information to identify at-risk profiling systems and work with state partners to provide technical assistance. We will monitor the agency's progress and update this recommendation as appropriate.
Department of Labor The Secretary of Labor should update agency guidance to ensure that it clearly informs states about the range of allowable profiling approaches. (Recommendation 3)
Open
The Department of Labor agreed with this recommendation and committed to publishing an Unemployment Insurance Program Letter (UIPL) regarding the implementation and maintenance of acceptable state profiling systems. In June 2021, DOL reported that efforts to issue guidance on profiling approaches had been delayed due to efforts to implement the new UI programs under the CARES Act and subsequent extensions. DOL said it anticipates issuing this guidance by the end of Calendar Year 2021. We will monitor the agency's progress in implementing this recommendation, and update its status, as appropriate.

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