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Talking workforce, doing nothing

I bet you didn’t know that Congressional aides have prop notebooks. Those are the notebooks that they bring to meetings with constituents so that they can look like very serious people and then they don’t write down a single thing.

I bet you didn’t know that Congressional aides have prop notebooks. Those are the notebooks that they bring to meetings with constituents so that they can look like very serious people and then they don’t write down a single thing. They must be saving a lot of money by being able to use the same notebook for years. One would think that they’re paying for office supplies out of their own pockets.

I made this discovery during the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors – National Association’s annual Legislative Conference in mid-June in D.C. I had the privilege of making the rounds of the House and Senate office buildings with the Californians, including Terrance Risse, president of Iron Mechanical in Sacramento, PHCC-National Association President Patrick Wallner, Wallner Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning in Redding, California PHCC President Arnie Rodio, Pace Setter Plumbing Inc., Sacramento, PHCC Executive Vice President Michael Copp and PHCC’s Director of Government Relations Mark Riso.

It got so obvious that Ron Baker, the photographer from Solid Images who accompanied us on our calls to Congressional offices, actually took a close-up photo of my notebook next to the notebook of a staffer. I had taken notes. The staffer had written “PHCC” and nothing else.

In fairness, there were a couple staffers who took copious notes, but they were the exceptions.

The contractors were in Washington to lobby Congress on energy efficiency regulations, tax reform and the workforce crisis, specifically the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, that’s currently funded at $1.2 billion. During the last Congress, the House of Representatives reauthorized the law with a $15 million increase, but the session ended before the bill could move through the Senate.

It’s not as if the Perkins Act or any other workforce development measure is controversial. At the morning legislative breakfast, Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), a supporter of the Perkins Act, told contractors that workforce development is bipartisan. Congressmen and Congressional staffers told the contractors with whom I walked the halls of Congress that they were all in favor of the law and in workforce development in general.

All of this bonhomie doesn’t provide a nickel for craft training.

One problem is that although $1.2 billion is real money to you and me, it’s too small to move on its own. The Perkins Act reauthorization would have to be attached to some other Department of Labor or Department of Education bill. Once that process starts, all sorts of negative things can happen during the horse-trading.

Even in the best of times, the Perkins Act can get caught up in competing interests. Proposed budgets from the Trump Administration would cut funding of the Perkins Act by $168 million. The Department of Education budget would be cut 13.6 percent and the Department of Labor budget would be cut by 21 percent. As the Association for Career and Technical Education has reported, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta made all the right noises about the importance of apprenticeship when he testified before the House labor and education subcommittee, but the budget for the apprenticeship grant program would be cut by $5 million. So which is it?

Michael Copp tried to make the case to legislators that workforce development funding is necessary for the President’s infrastructure program, and rightly so. Somebody has to do the work. Contractors are already constrained in their ability to take on new work.

Sometimes it’s a good thing when Congress accomplishes nothing, but the wheel spinning and lack of commitment to workforce development funding that I witnessed was truly disheartening.

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