WASHINGTON — Federal job training programs will see their biggest overhaul in 16 years after President Obama put his signature Tuesday on a law intended to streamline a tangled web of programs.
It's the first major rewrite of federal job training programs since Congress passed the Workforce Development Act in 1998 — when Netscape was the Web browser of choice, résumés were on paper and largely sent in the mail and newspaper want ads were the primary way of learning of job openings.
"Even back then, even in 1998, our economy was changing," Obama said. "The notion that a high school education could get you a good job and that you'd keep that job until retirement wasn't a reality for the majority of people."
The 1998 law was scheduled to be renewed in 2003. Since then, government auditors have found a sprawling network of overlapping and duplicate job training programs. As of 2011, the federal government spent $18 billion a year on 47 separate job training programs run by nine different agencies, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act signed Tuesday eliminates 15 of those programs and streamlines the others, giving state and regional officials more flexibility in how they use federal job training money. The bipartisan bill passed the Democratic Senate 95-3 and the Republican House 415-6.
Also Tuesday, Vice President Biden released a report on what's working and what's not in federal job training programs. Obama promised an "across-the-board reform of America's training programs" in his State of the Union Address in January.
Obama said the administration would make job training programs publicly disclose how many of their graduates get jobs and how much they earn — an attempt to rein in what he called the "train-and-pray" approach many job seekers see in training programs.
"They enroll, they get trained for something. They're not even sure whether the job is out there, and if the job isn't out there, all they're doing is saddling themselves with debt, oftentimes putting themselves in a worse position," Obama said. "Every job seeker should have all the tools they need to take their career into their own hands."
Obama will give a speech on job training efforts Thursday at the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College.