Economic Adjustment Assistance: Actions Needed to Better Address Workers' Needs and Assess Program Effectiveness
When a plant or company closes down or moves, there are some federal programs to help workers adjust to losing their jobs. For example, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the Department of Labor both give state and local organizations grants to provide job training and counseling services.
We reviewed these grants and found that:
Labor did not process some grant applications in a timely manner
ARC and Labor do not share information about their grant programs with each other—so they may miss opportunities to best serve workers
We recommended that the two agencies address these (and other) issues.
Participants, including former coal miners, training to become electrical utility workers
What GAO Found
Workers who are eligible for federal economic adjustment assistance (EAA) programs may face challenges using them. There are four EAA programs and one tax credit that focus on assistance to individual workers displaced by policy and economic changes. These include programs administered by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and Department of Labor (DOL), which deliver services such as job training and counseling through state and local grantees. Selected grantees in all three states GAO visited described common challenges faced by workers from enrollment in EAA programs through re-entry into the job market.
Grantees Described Common Challenges Workers Face in Accessing and Using Economic Adjustment Assistance (EAA) Program Services
Interviews with selected grantees and GAO's data analysis revealed two key challenges with administering EAA programs and serving workers:
- Delays in grant decisions. From fiscal years 2015 through 2018, DOL took longer than legally required to process between 9 percent (3 out of 35) and 20 percent (3 out of 15) of National Dislocated Worker Grant applications. Grantees may serve fewer workers and may interrupt services to workers while awaiting decisions. DOL does not collect information on reasons for these delays and is missing opportunities to help ensure that dislocated workers receive timely assistance.
- Lack of information sharing. ARC and DOL do not share information about their EAA grant programs with grantees or each other, including information about grant projects that serve similar populations in similar geographic areas. As a result, ARC and DOL may fail to maximize program impact and reach across the 13-state Appalachian region. Regional officials said that coordination would enable them to better identify specific services needed by dislocated workers and which program might best be equipped to provide them.
DOL has established performance measures to track outcomes for its EAA programs, but has experienced challenges with assessing the impact of job training offered under these programs. GAO reviewed two relevant studies on the impact of DOL's EAA programs containing some evidence that intensive services, such as one-on-one consultations and case management, were effective in improving earnings outcomes for dislocated workers. However, the studies were unable to effectively assess the impact of job training offered to dislocated workers under the programs due to methodological challenges. By collecting more quality evidence, DOL could be better able to determine if its EAA programs are helping workers achieve their employment goals.
Why GAO Did This Study
Federal EAA programs help workers adjust to various economic disruptions, such as policy changes on trade, defense, or energy, and shifts in immigration, globalization, or automation that cause a prolonged cyclical downturn and can dislocate workers. GAO was asked to review these programs.
This report examines (1) what challenges eligible workers face in using EAA programs, (2) what challenges grantees face in implementing EAA programs and serving workers, and (3) what is known about the outcomes and impacts of selected EAA programs. GAO analyzed DOL grant processing data from fiscal years 2015 through 2018, the most recent data available at the time of GAO's analysis; reviewed outcome data from program year 2018 and program impact evaluations; interviewed ARC, DOL, and Department of the Treasury officials, as well as state and local officials in three states that experienced different economic disruptions and use different EAA programs; and reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and guidance.
GAO is making seven recommendations, including that DOL address grant processing delays, DOL and ARC share information, and DOL prioritize improving the quality of evidence on the impact of job training for dislocated workers. DOL and ARC agreed with GAO's recommendations.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Labor||The Secretary of Labor should ensure that DOL has a procedure to help the agency analyze reasons for delays in processing National Dislocated Worker Grant applications and grant modifications. (Recommendation 1)||
In 2020, DOL's Employment and Training Administration (ETA) implemented new customer service strategies for processing National Dislocated Worker Grant (NDWG) applications. These process improvements include prescribed timeframes for applicants to respond to feedback on grant applications, providing technical assistance follow-up calls to applicants to accompany written feedback, and offering a standard checklist tool for NDWG applicants and reviewers. The strategies are intended to enhance the timeliness and efficiency of NDWG application reviews and processing, as well as the quality of applications that are received, according to DOL officials. ETA also discusses the status of NDWG applications in clearance during weekly senior executive meetings and in one-on-one "touch-base" meetings with ETA leadership. To support these efforts, DOL's Office of Grants Management established a method for tracking grant applications and modifications, recording the number of days until approval and identifying the reason for any delays. With this tracking mechanism in place, DOL will be better positioned to understand delayed grant decisions and prevent them in the future, helping ensure that dislocated workers receive timely assistance.
|Department of Labor||The Secretary of Labor should identify and implement additional mechanisms to allow EAA grantees to share information about innovative and best practices with each other, such as DOL hosting an in-person or virtual national convening for grantees. (Recommendation 2)||
In June 2021, DOL officials said the agency continues to provide regular technical assistance (TA) and bring together cohorts of grantees for conference calls and other virtual gatherings to share promising practices and address areas of common concern. DOL plans to launch a TA Collaborative, focused in part on reemployment, by the end of fiscal year 2021. DOL officials said that they are evaluating whether a national convening is the best method to address reemployment efforts as the country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. As of August 2022, we continue to recommend that DOL convene national gatherings for grantees and await further progress on these efforts.
|Department of Labor||The Secretary of Labor should work with the Federal Co-Chair of the ARC to identify and implement mechanisms that allow for information sharing between the two agencies regarding their EAA programs, including sharing grant decisions. (Recommendation 3)||
In September 2020, DOL and ARC instituted a coordination protocol with the goals of enhancing a coordinated federal workforce development investment approach in the Appalachian region; reducing overlap, duplication and fragmentation of federally-funded services that target the same region and population; enhancing the effectiveness and "targetedness" of federal investments; and increasing alignment between the two agencies. As part of the coordination protocol, the agencies agreed to hold two bi-annual meetings, engage in joint grantee technical assistance activities, and share information on grant-making activities in the Appalachian region. Establishing coordination mechanisms will help the agencies maximize program impact and reach across the Appalachian region.
|Appalachian Regional Commission||The Federal Co-Chair of the ARC should work with the Secretary of Labor to identify and implement mechanisms that allow for information sharing between the two agencies regarding their EAA programs, including sharing grant decisions. (Recommendation 4)||
In September 2020, ARC and DOL instituted a coordination protocol with the goals of enhancing a coordinated federal workforce development investment approach in the Appalachian region; reducing overlap, duplication and fragmentation of federally-funded services that target the same region and population; enhancing the effectiveness and "targetedness" of federal investments; and increasing alignment between the two agencies. As part of the coordination protocol, the agencies agreed to hold two bi-annual meetings, engage in joint grantee technical assistance activities, and share information on grant-making activities in the Appalachian region. Establishing coordination mechanisms will help the agencies maximize program impact and reach across the Appalachian region.
|Appalachian Regional Commission||The Federal Co-Chair of the ARC should develop a plan for addressing issues related to performance data for POWER Initiative grants. (Recommendation 5)||
ARC commissioned a study by the Urban Institute of ARC's performance measurement system and other systems from similar organizations. In the resulting June 2021 report, "Strengthening the Appalachian Regional Commission's Grant Performance Measurement: A Roadmap and Recommendations," the Urban Institute outlines a roadmap and recommendations to guide ARC as it considers updates to its internal performance measurement processes and systems. In November 2021, ARC established a Performance Measurement Working Group, comprised of staff from the agency's Research and Evaluation and grants divisions as well as the Office of the Executive Director, to act upon the recommendations from the Urban Institute report. The working group generally agreed with the Urban Institute's recommendations and categorized these as immediate, mid-term, or longer-term priorities. The working group identified updating ARC's written guidance, including clarifying performance measures internally, as an immediate priority. As a first step, the group will prepare a new performance measurement guide for applicants and grantees. Improving its performance measurement system will help ARC better monitor POWER Initiative grantee performance and ensure program goals are achieved.
|Department of Labor||The Secretary of Labor should, as part of the Department's evidence building processes, prioritize improving the quality of evidence on the impact of job training for dislocated workers. (Recommendation 6)||
In June 2021, DOL officials said the agency continues to build the evidence base on the impact of job training for dislocated workers and released an implementation study of the WIOA Dislocated Worker program in January 2021. DOL officials said that the agency is developing a multi-year research plan under WIOA Section 169 to ensure that research efforts focus on the most relevant topics and key knowledge gaps. DOL expects to complete this plan by December 2021. We will consider closing this recommendation when DOL determines whether the agency will study the impact of job training for dislocated workers. As of August 2022, we await information on DOL's progress.
|Department of Labor||The Secretary of Labor should identify the expected time frame for providing the first report to Congress that is responsive to the WIOA requirement for an annual report that includes research and evaluation findings. In addition, the agency should communicate this time frame to relevant congressional committees. (Recommendation 7)||
In April 2021, DOL officials told us that they have not yet submitted this report to Congress, and did not provide documentation that they communicated a timeframe to Congress. As of September 2022, we await the completion and documentation of this effort.