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Witness Testimony of Hon. Charles S. Ciccolella, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor

Chairman Herseth Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, and Members of the Committee.

I am pleased to appear before you today to discuss four bills introduced in the House of Representatives and referred to this Subcommittee for action. 

H.R. 3646

H.R. 3646 mandates a study, to be conducted jointly by the Secretaries of Labor and Veterans’ Affairs, “on the fields of employment for which the greatest need for employees exists in various geographic areas…”

The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) develops ten-year National-level industry and employment projections and prepares and publishes career information based on those projections.  Projections are done on a biennial basis; the most recent set, released in December 2007, covers 2006 to 2016.  BLS provides the National projections data files through DOL’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) to state workforce agencies to use as a starting point for developing state and area projections.   In addition, the states currently collect labor market information and share it with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ (VA) Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) service to better assist disabled veterans in making an informed choice on the type of career they would like to pursue. This information is used to assure disabled veterans are not placed into education or training programs for jobs that are unavailable in the local economy.   

The Department urges the Congress to fund the President's FY09 budget request for BLS so we and the states can continue to produce the occupational employment and wage information, and the national projections that underlie the state and area projections that VR&E and others who work with veterans are already using.  We do not believe that the joint study that would be required if this bill became law would produce more or better data than the information described above, which is already available and used in the federally-funded workforce investment system to assist in matching veterans with good jobs and promising careers. Accordingly, the Department opposes this bill.  

H.R. 3393

H.R. 3393 would make a number of significant changes to the enforcement and remedies provisions of USERRA.  For example, the bill would give the court the discretion to award $20,000 in liquidated damages if it finds that the employer willfully violated USERRA.  In addition, it would authorize the court to award punitive damages, subject only to Constitutional limits, against State and private employers of 15 or more employees if the court determined that the violation was done with malice or reckless indifference to the service member’s USERRA rights.  States would also be required in USERRA cases to waive their sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution or otherwise.

In general, the Department supports efforts to strengthen the ability of service members to reclaim their civilian employment upon leaving military service.  However, the Department cannot support this bill, as drafted, because it is concerned that the far-reaching provisions of this bill, particularly its provision for unlimited punitive damages, could have a chilling effect on employers’ desire to hire service members.  The provision requiring states to waive various rights would also deserve thorough debate.

H.R. 3798

The Department would like to work with the Subcommittee and the Department of Defense to further explore the intent of this proposed legislation.  USERRA was intended to encourage noncareer service—as opposed to career service—in the uniformed services.  The Department therefore is concerned that, as drafted, this legislation could extend USERRA protection to certain members of the National Guard well beyond the existing five-year limit on military service while working for a single employer.  

H.R. 3467

H.R. 3467 would authorize the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to establish a workforce reentry program for fiscal years 2008 – 2011 at $15 million per year.  Additionally, the bill would: provide for a prisoner re-entry program for veterans in 24 locations across the country that would provide counseling and referral services, in addition to job training; vest the authority for this program with the Secretary of VA; make relevant state agencies, including state and local workforce investment boards, and non-profit organizations eligible to receive grants to provide services to incarcerated veterans; and require grantees to submit an evaluation of the program three years after receiving the grant. 

The Administration supports the intent of the “Second Chance for America’s Veterans Act.” However, we would note that most of the services proposed under this legislation, which mirrors the recently concluded Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program (IVTP), could be provided through the Second Chance Act, which the President signed into law last week.  

Among other things, the recently enacted Second Chance Act formally authorizes key features of the Prisoner Re-entry Initiative (PRI), which provides recently released ex-offenders—including veterans—the support and services they need to successfully reintegrate into mainstream society. 

We fully recognize the promising early results of the Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program demonstration, and believe the lessons learned and best practices from that demonstration can be incorporated into the PRI.  These lessons include: active collaboration with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs; pre-release counseling; veterans’ benefits counseling; coordination with other programs for housing and other assistance; and discharge upgrade consideration. 

VETS will work closely with DOL’s Employment and Training Administration and with VA to assure that IVTP best practices are incorporated into the Prisoner Re-entry Initiative and that eligible veterans receive priority of service.

That concludes my statement and I would be happy to answer any questions.