Administration Proposes Merger of ED, DOL

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced Thursday that the administration will recommend merging the Departments of Education (ED) and Labor (DOL) as part of a larger government-wide reorganization effort.

The recommendations stem from a March 2017 executive order which asked agencies and OMB to look at ways to reduce the size of the federal bureaucracy and increase efficiency.  This merger would align with the administration’s desire to re-work higher education programs to be more job-oriented, and to promote and expand access to apprenticeships, job training programs, and career and technical education.  The new agency would tentatively be called the Department of Education and Workforce (DEW) and would consist of sub-offices focusing on “Workforce and Higher Education Administration,” K-12 education, enforcement, and a department-wide “Research, Evaluation, and Administration” office which would include the Office of Inspector General.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics would be moved to a separate research and statistical office, while the Institute of Education Sciences would remain within ED.  Federal Student Aid would be “streamlined” with a new system for processing and servicing. 

With this combination of agencies would come a reorganization and redesignation of funding sources.  The proposal would call for redirecting funding for the Labor Department’s adult and dislocated worker programs into expanding Pell grants for short-term training programs.  The H-1B visa fees that are currently used by the Labor Department for short-term job training programs would go to competitive grants to “education and business partnerships” to boost high school science, technology engineering and math education.  The federal ownership in property would be reduced to only what is considered necessary for operating programs, and more would be turned over to private entities. 

Administration officials are also reportedly considering more limited steps like moving some employment and job training programs, as well as youth programs like JobCorps and YouthBuild, into the Department of Education. 

In response to the suggested merger, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Committee with jurisdiction over education, issued a press release calling the idea “unrealistic, unhelpful, and futile.”  Instead of working on this project, Murray says, members of the Cabinet should “start undoing some of the chaos and harm they have caused children, students, workers, patients, and families across the country.”

But Secretary DeVos praised the idea in a press release, saying “President Trump campaigned and won with his promise to reduce the federal footprint in education and to make the federal government more efficient and effective. Today’s bold reform proposal takes a big step toward fulfilling that promise.  Artificial barriers between education and workforce programs have existed for far too long.  We must reform our 20th century federal agencies to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”

The two agencies run some complementary programs.  ED, which opened its doors in 1980, was originally part of the former Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.  The Department of Labor is much larger at about 15,000 employees, while ED employs about 3,900 staff – and has already shrunk significantly under the Trump administration.  But ED, and many of its internal offices, were mandated by Congress so the reorganization would need significant Congressional involvement and support to move forward.  Similar proposals to combine the two agencies have arisen in previous decades but ultimately failed to gain traction.

As rumored earlier, the proposal would move nutrition programs including school meal programs into the Department of Health and Human Services, which would be renamed the Department of Health and Public Welfare.  

The full government reorganization proposal is here.

Jacqueline Thomsen, “White House to Recommend Combining Education, Labor Departments: Report,” The Hill, June 20, 2018.
Michell Hackman and Eric Morath, “White House to Propose Merging Education, Labor Departments,” Wall Street Journal, June 20, 2018.
Author: JCM

About the Author

Julia Martin is an attorney with the Washington, DC law firm of Brustein & Manasevit, PLLC. Established in 1980, the Firm is nationally recognized for its federal education regulatory and legislative practice, providing legal advice regarding compliance with all major federal education programs as well as the federal grants management requirements, including the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR). In addition, they work with agencies on federal spending flexibility, allowability, policies and procedures, audit defense and resolution and legislative updates. The Firm provides government relations services for the National Title I Association.