One of politicians' favorite responses to news of massive job losses in an area or industry is to throw training money at the victims. Laid-off workers will be re-educated so they can get some of those high-tech, high-pay jobs we've all heard so much about, government officials say.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that often does not happen. Workers laid off from good jobs sometimes do receive training, only to find it is useless in the real world. They lose time and energy they could have devoted to looking for work. Taxpayers lose money that could have been put to better use.
How much money? Billions of dollars a year.
Nine federal agencies spend about $4 billion a year to help people with disabilities find jobs, often through retraining projects, counseling and help with leads and scheduling.
Investigators with the Government Accountability Office looked into the programs and found the dozens of programs involved sometimes overlap and often are fragmented in their approaches to helping the disabled. In addition, the GAO warned, little is done to measure the effectiveness of the initiatives.
In some cases, federal agencies simply pass job training money down to the states, which may hand it on to local job programs. All along the way, monitoring of effectiveness is spotty, the GAO determined.
Forty-five federal programs providing employment help to the disabled were identified by the GAO. Some federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, agreed with the watchdogs' conclusions. Others, including the Department of Labor, disputed the GAO.
The GAO has an excellent reputation for rooting out waste elsewhere in the government. All too often, however, the agency's findings result in newspaper stories (and editorials), a condemnation or two from members of Congress - and no real reform.
It is estimated one in five Americans suffers from some disability making it a challenge to find and hold a job. Taxpayers' money intended to help them needs to be spent wisely. The GAO report should not be filed and forgotten, but should be followed up on by Congress.