Hon. Marlin A. Stutzman, Chairman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity
Welcome to the first Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hearing of the second session. There is a good reason why I chose this as the first topic.
Shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, the United States defense policy changed to transition the National Guard and Reserves from a strategic reserve to an operational reserve. There were several reasons for doing this ranging from the perception that a reliance on the Reserve Components would lessen the likelihood of military actions in the future to reducing the cost of our defense forces. Regardless of those reasons, members of the Guard and Reserves have borne a significant share of the combat since 9/11. Clearly, they are no longer “Weekend Warriors.”
That also means that employers - especially small businesses - have experienced labor challenges not seen since World War II and by and large, have supported their employees. Unfortunately, active duty call-ups, combined with a bad economy, have created historically high unemployment rates among the Guard and Reserves. Even more unfortunate, you will hear today that some employers have used what I believe are less-than-ethical tactics to terminate members of the Guard and Reserves.
As the owner of a small business, I understand the pressures on employers that the loss of a critical employee creates. But in the end, the question I always ask is, who is making the greater sacrifice, the employer or the service member who is literally going in harm’s way and that member’s family who must cope with all the stresses of a deployment?
You will also hear today from the National Association of Manufacturing about the over 600,000 manufacturing jobs going unfilled because of skill shortages. With that kind of information we must ask ourselves, what are we as a nation doing wrong?
For example, taxpayers are providing a generous GI Bill education and training program and the Department of Education offers numerous Title 4 financial assistance programs. In many cases, the states are also offering generous education and training benefits to members of their state’s National Guard as well as veterans in general. Additionally, the recently passed VOW to Hire Heroes Act focuses on renewing the skills of unemployed veterans between the ages of 35 and 60 by providing up to a year of Montgomery GI Bill benefits. Veterans also have priority access to all Department of Labor Workforce Investment Act or WIA (WEE-A) programs. All of these education and benefit programs offer opportunities to acquire skills needed by today’s employers. So where are we going wrong, where are the gaps and I look forward to some concrete ideas here today to help us. I would note that none of the government’s witnesses have made any such suggestions in their written testimony.
I am pleased to see that manufacturers are increasing their role as you will hear in Ms. De Rocco’s testimony and I believe that increasing initiatives by the employer side of the equation is an area that offers significant leverage in developing and matching skills with job vacancies. In the end, it will likely be up to employers to take actions at the local level rather than moving jobs overseas. I know that many companies work with community colleges to develop the skills needed in their company and I suspect that expanding that model is an area we need to explore further.
Before I yield to the Ranking Member, as everyone knows, the Transition Assistance Program is an integral part of transition. In fact, I believe that every one of today’s witnesses mentions TAP in their written testimony. In preparing for this hearing, the staff asked the Administration for a briefing on the redesign of the Transition Assistance Program or TAP. Unfortunately, that briefing has been delayed pending release of a study done for the White House. While I commend the Administration for doing the study, delaying its release – for whatever reason – does not help either the Congress or the Administration to get on with revitalizing an important program and I urge the White House to release the study.
Once again, welcome and I now recognize the distinguished Ranking Member, Mr. Braley for his opening remarks.