Major Management Challenges at the Department of Labor
Overall, the Department of Labor (Labor) has made some progress in addressing each of the three major management challenges that GAO identified in 2003, yet challenges remain.
Labor has taken various steps to better manage employment and training programs to meet the demands for the workforce of the 21 st century . The department continues to address performance measurement issues that hamper its ability to determine the success of employment and training programs, such as initiating a data validation project to improve the quality of Workforce Investment Act performance data and proposing a new performance reporting system to collect information on all jobseekers and employers that use one-stop services. Labor is also taking a significant step toward measuring outcomes across one-stop partners by developing definitions for a set of common performance measures. However, most of these efforts are still under development and do not completely alleviate concerns with performance measurement, so Labor must continue to focus on these issues. Labor has also become more proactive in ensuring access to employment and training funds, for example, by developing an electronic system that enables states and local areas to apply for national emergency grants online. However, Labor needs to continue to identify the need for, and provide, additional technical assistance to better support states and local areas in implementing the Workforce Investment Act, and GAO has recommended several areas for additional technical assistance. In addition, Labor faces challenges in encouraging states to place greater emphasis on program integrity activities in the Unemployment Insurance program and facilitating states' use of automated data sources as a component of these activities, as GAO has recommended. GAO's prior work highlighted billions of dollars in overpayments in the Unemployment Insurance program, and Congress subsequently gave Labor access to the Office of Child Support Enforcement's National Directory of New Hires as a tool to assist in administering the program.
The bankruptcy of certain firms in troubled industries and the termination of their large underfunded defined benefit pension plans has intensified the threat to the pensions and benefits of millions of workers that we cited in 2003, and also now threatens the financial solvency of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), whose single employer insurance program is now on GAO's high risk list. The growing pension crisis demonstrates the need for comprehensive reform of our nation's defined benefit pension system, including increased disclosure of plans' financial condition and information on plans' investments to participants as well as the federal government, and highlights the continuing challenge to Labor of protecting workers' benefits. Labor's Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) has taken steps to strategically manage its enforcement program, including conducting studies to determine the level and type of noncompliance with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and developing a Human Capital Strategic Management Plan. However, we recently reported that EBSA could do more to enforce fiduciary conduct in voting proxies and should coordinate enforcement strategies with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Additional information on PBGC's single employer insurance program can be found in High-Risk Series: An Update ( GAO-05-207 ).
On the need to foster safe and healthy workplaces , Labor has taken some actions to develop performance measurement systems that help gauge the effectiveness of agency activities. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) contracted out for its first-ever impact analysis of its Site-Specific Targeting program, which demonstrated that the program was effective in reducing workplace injuries and illnesses. However Labor continues to face challenges in establishing performance measurement systems. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is not effectively monitoring the timeliness of certain aspects of mine plans nor always ensuring that hazards found during inspections are corrected promptly, and GAO has made recommendations to address these problems. In addition, while OSHA's voluntary compliance programs appear to have yielded many positive outcomes, much of the agency's data are insufficient for evaluation, and GAO has recommended that the agency identify cost-effective methods of collecting complete and comparable data on program outcomes. Finally, OSHA's oversight of its regional and area office activities has limitations. Some regional offices are not conducting annual audits that would identify the extent to which their area offices are properly employing the process to respond to complaints from employees alleging hazardous conditions at their work sites. In fact, area office officials described differing ways in which they respond to complaints. Likewise, many regional offices GAO recently reviewed did not conduct penalty determination and abatement follow-up audits in full accordance with OSHA procedures, and OSHA's national office does not review or use the audits that are completed. GAO has made several recommendations in response to these findings.
Related GAO Products
Manage Employment and Training Programs
Public Community Colleges and Technical Schools: Most Schools Use Both Credit and Noncredit Programs for Workforce Development . GAO-05-04 . Washington, D.C.: October 18, 2004.
Trade Adjustment Assistance: Reforms Have Accelerated Training Enrollment, but Implementation Challenges Remain . GAO-04-1012 . Washington, D.C.: September 22, 2004.
Highlights of a GAO Forum: Workforce Challenges and Opportunities For the 21 st Century: Changing Labor Force Dynamics and the Role of Government Policies . GAO-04-845SP . Washington, D.C.: June 2004.
Workforce Investment Act: States and Local Areas Have Developed Strategies to Assess Performance, but Labor Could Do More to Help . GAO-04-657 . Washington, D.C.: June 1, 2004.
National Emergency Grants: Labor Is Instituting Changes to Improve Award Process, but Further Actions Are Required to Expedite Grant Awards and Improve Data . GAO-04-496 . Washington, D.C.: April 16, 2004.
Workforce Investment Act: Labor Actions Can Help States Improve Quality of Performance Outcome Data and Delivery of Youth Services . GAO-04-308 . Washington, D.C.: February 23, 2004.
Workforce Training: Almost Half of States Fund Employment Placement and Training through Employer Taxes and Most Coordinate with Federally Funded Programs . GAO-04-282 . Washington, D.C.: February 13, 2004.
National Emergency Grants: Services to Dislocated Workers Hampered by Delays in Grant Awards, but Labor Is Initiating Actions to Improve Grant Award Process . GAO-04-222 . Washington, D.C.: November 14, 2003.
H-1B Foreign Workers: Better Tracking Needed to Help Determine H-1B Program's Effects on U.S. Workforce . GAO-03-883 . Washington, D.C.: September 10, 2003.
Workforce Investment Act: Potential Effects of Alternative Formulas on State Allocations . GAO-03-1043 . Washington, D.C.: August 28, 2003.
Unemployment Insurance: Survey of State Administrators and Contacts with Companies Promoting Tax Avoidance Practices . GAO-03-819T . Washington, D.C.: June 19, 2003.
Workforce Investment Act: One-Stop Centers Implemented Strategies to Strengthen Services and Partnerships, but More Research and Information Sharing is Needed . GAO-03-725 . Washington, D.C.: June 18, 2003.
Workforce Investment Act: Issues Related to Allocation Formulas for Youth, Adults, and Dislocated Workers . GAO-03-636 . Washington, D.C.: April 25, 2003.
Multiple Employment and Training Programs: Funding and Performance Measures for Major Programs . GAO-03-589 . Washington, D.C.: April 18, 2003.
Unemployment Insurance: States' Use of the 2002 Reed Act Distribution . GAO-03-496 . Washington, D.C.: March 6, 2003.
Workforce Training: Employed Worker Programs Focus on Business Needs, but Revised Performance Measures Could Improve Access for Some Workers . GAO-03-353 . Washington, D.C.: February 14, 2003.
Older Workers: Employment Assistance Focuses on Subsidized Jobs and Job Search, but Revised Performance Measures Could Improve Access to Other Services . GAO-03-350 . Washington, D.C.: January 24, 2003.
Protect the Benefits of Workers
Private Pensions: Airline Plans' Underfunding Illustrates Broader Problems with the Defined Benefit Pension System . GAO-05-108T . Washington, D.C.: Oct. 7, 2004.
Pension Plans: Additional Transparency and Other Actions Needed in Connection With Proxy Voting. GAO-04-749 . Washington, D.C: August 10, 2004.
Mutual Funds: SEC Should Modify Proposed Regulations to Address Some Pension Plan Concerns. GAO-04-799 . Washington, D.C.: July 9, 2004
Private Pensions: Publicly Available Reports Provide Useful but Limited Information on Plans' Financial Condition . GAO-04-395 . Washington, D.C.: March 31, 2004.
Private Pensions: Timely and Accurate Information Is Needed to Identify and Track Frozen Defined Benefit Plans . GAO-04-200R . Washington, D.C.: Dec. 17, 2003.
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation: Single-Employer Pension Insurance Program Faces Significant Long-Term Risks . GAO-04-90 . Washington, D.C.: October 29, 2003.
Private Pensions: Changing Funding Rules and Enhancing Incentives Can Improve Plan Funding . GAO-04-176T . Washington, D.C.: Oct. 29, 2003.
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation: Single-Employer Pension Insurance Program Faces Significant Long-Term Risks. GAO-03-873T . Washington, D.C.: September 4, 2003.
Private Pensions: Participants Need Information on Risks They Face in Managing Pension Assets at and during Retirement. GAO-03-810 . Washington, D.C.: July 29, 2003
Retirement Income Data: Improvements Could Better Support Analysis of Future Retirees' Prospects. GAO-03-337 . Washington, D.C.: March 21, 2003.
Private Pensions: Process Needed to Monitor the Mandated Interest Rate for Pension Calculations . GAO-03-313 . Washington, D.C.: Feb. 27, 2003.
Foster Safe and Healthy Workplaces
Energy Employees Compensation: Many Claims Have Been Processed, but Action Is Needed to Expedite Processing of Claims Requiring Radiation Exposure Estimates. GAO-04-958 . Washington, D.C.: September 10, 2004.
Workplace Safety and Health: OSHA's Oversight of Its Civil Penalty Determination and Violation Abatement Processes Has Limitations . GAO-04-920 . Washington, D.C.: August 13, 2004.
OSHA's Complaint Response Policies: OSHA Credits Its Complaint System with Conserving Agency Resources, but the System Still Warrants Improvement. GAO-04-658 . Washington, D.C.: June 18, 2004.
Workplace Safety and Health: OSHA's Voluntary Compliance Strategies Show Promising Results, but Should be Fully Evaluated Before They Are Expanded . GAO-04-378 . Washington, D.C.: March 19, 2004.
Mine Safety: MSHA Devotes Substantial Effort to Ensuring the Safety and Health of Coal Miners, but Its Programs Could Be Strengthened . GAO-03-945 . Washington, D.C.: September 5, 2003.