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Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Succeed?

by Tod Massa 22. June 2018 14:15

One of the pieces of news this week was the announcement of the Trump Administration's proposal to merge the Education Department with the Department of Labor. The Chronicle of Higher Education covered it here and InsideHigherEd covered it here. I'm not surprised by this proposal as I see it as a natural evolution of policy forces and behavior that have been occurring the last couple of decades. Despite my ongoing belief in, and commitment to, the ideas of a liberal education and that education is more than job training, I can see potential benefits to such a restructuring. I can also potential points of failure.

In short, I am not convinced yet that this either a good idea or bad idea.

What does concern me is that the programs currently managed by both entities are large and sprawling. Bringing them all into a single agency and creating a unified culture across this new agency seems Herculean at best. Further, appointing a single cabinet position, a secretary of education and workforce, would, I think, really a stretch a cabinet member's ability to successfully advocate for specific needs. I also think competition for funds and attention within the agency would be fierce.

If I take the position that such a merger could be a good thing, the biggest failure is moving the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to Commerce to be with the rest of the so-called "major" statistical agencies. Keeping BLS within an education and workforce agency would conceivably make the combination of student data and employment data easier and straightforward. This would lead to much improved data and information about the linkages between education and the workforce. Without any mention of this opportunity, or what the role data would play in this new agency, I take it as a clue that the Administration might not be interested in these possibilities. It may also be that this too much in the weeds for the broad proposal that has been released.

Regardless, it will be interesting to watch the continuing reactions to the proposal.



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