Barcia and Rivers Release GAO Report on H-1B Skills Training Grants
Today, Representatives Jim Barcia (D-MI) and Lynn Rivers (D-MI), senior Members of the Science Committee, released a GAO report on the effectiveness of the Department of Labor's skill grant training program. This program, funded from H-1B visa fees paid by sponsoring employers, was created in 1998 and designed to improve the general technical skills of American workers. GAO found that the program has generally been effective in training both unemployed and currently employed workers to enhance their technical skills.
"It is essential that we assist American workers in improving their job skills and meeting the needs of American employers," Rivers said. "This report helps shed light on the value of skills training programs for US workers and on ways to expand the benefits provided through these programs."
"Michigan employers and workers know how important technical training is to maintain productivity and competitiveness. It is reassuring that GAO finds the skill grant training program to be effective in raising the technical skill sets for workers."
The report also notes that the grants have been effective in strengthening connections between local Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) and high-tech employers. "The progress made at the local level by the skill grant program in building relationships with employers and identifying skills needed has broader implications for enhancing national efforts to meet high skill needs," the report states.
The Department of Labor's skill grant program has come under fire during the last year. The Bush Administration's Department of Labor budget request for 2003 described the program as ineffective and proposed to transfer the funds from training American workers to speeding up the processing of green card applications. Neither GAO nor the Democratic staff of the Science Committee could find any evaluation that underlay the description of this program as "ineffective." The GAO report marks the first formal evaluation of the H1B training program.
Representative Rivers added, "I hope that GAO's positive evaluation of this program will put an end to proposals that would channel money away from training American workers."
The GAO report also describes the National Science Foundation's (NSF) scholarship grant programs for low-income students in computer science, engineering and math. While the GAO did not do a detailed survey of the scholarships, they did compile statistics that show the program is succeeding in supporting under-represented groups in these fields. For example, 37% of the scholarships are women, 20% are of African-American heritage and 14% are of Hispanic heritage. This compares to 24% women, 8% African-American and 6% Hispanic among all graduates in these fields.
In preliminary findings, GAO had noted that NSF had some trouble fully expending their scholarship funds - suggesting that the program may be too restrictive in who can qualify. Those observations led Representative Rivers to successfully amend the National Science Foundation authorization to allow part-time students in these fields to qualify for scholarships. This should allow more working men and women to continue to support their families while pursuing a degree in computer science, engineering or mathematics.