Earlier this year, the committee met to examine some of the challenges facing America’s higher education system. Costs are rising at private and public institutions. Far too many individuals are failing to complete their education in a timely manner. Misguided rules are stifling innovation on campuses and creating new burdens on institutions across the country.
At that same hearing we discussed opportunities to help address these challenges — opportunities like empowering students to make informed decisions; simplifying student aid; and promoting innovation, access, and completion.
Today, we continue our work to strengthen higher education by taking a closer look at another one of the key principles guiding our efforts — providing strong accountability for students and taxpayers.
In higher education, one way we ensure accountability is the accreditation process. Accrediting agencies are voluntary private organizations made up of members from accredited colleges and universities. These agencies work with their member institutions to develop standards and criteria to determine what constitutes a high-quality higher education institution. Then, through a non-governmental system of peer review, the agencies decide if an institution meets those standards.
By giving their stamp of approval, accreditation agencies provide students and parents with an assurance that an institution meets certain standards when it comes to delivering a high-quality education. Families rely on accreditors to hold schools accountable for the education they provide and to ensure those schools are producing results for their students.
Congress also relies on accreditors. Accreditation helps determine which schools are permitted to participate in federal student aid programs. These important programs allow students at eligible schools to receive federal funds, and we need to know those hard-earned taxpayer dollars are only going to institutions that are serving students well.
The accreditation process is critical to providing accountability in the higher education system. However, like many aspects of higher education, accreditation is in need of improvement.
It has never been and should never be the federal government’s role to judge the quality of a school’s education programs. Entrusting independent accrediting agencies with that responsibility protects academic freedom and student choice. However, in recent years, accreditors have been forced to focus on compliance rather than promoting academic integrity, undermining the process and its purpose. It’s time for a better approach.
We need to refocus federal accreditation requirements on academic quality and student learning. We need to ensure federal rules are clear and easy to follow. We need to improve — or do away with — regulations that discourage or prevent innovation in higher education. And we need to make sure the administration — whether Democrat or Republican — does not have the power to recklessly second-guess the tough decisions accreditation agencies make.
These are all things Congress can do to improve the accreditation process, but if we are going to see real change, accreditors have a job to do as well.
It’s not enough to refocus federal rules. Accreditors must also embrace a commitment to high-quality and improved outcomes. Students need an honest and accurate assessment when it comes to the quality of education a school provides. An accreditation agency’s stamp of approval means something to those students, or at least it should mean something.
Accreditors also need to be open to innovation and the opportunities it can create in higher education. If we are going to roll back rigid federal requirements, it’s up to accrediting agencies to take the flexibility we are working to provide and do something meaningful with it.
By working together — Congress and accreditors — we can improve the accreditation system, ensuring a balance between flexibility for institutions and accountability for students and taxpayers.
We are here today to gain a better understanding of the challenges facing the accreditation system, as well as how we can tackle those challenges. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and advancing solutions that will provide greater accountability in higher education and ensure the accreditation process serves the best interests of students, families, and taxpayers.
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This bill is about empowering workers and families. It’s about giving moms and dads more flexibility to meet the demands of work and raising a family. And it’s about taking power out of Washington and putting it into the hands of individuals.
For decades, Congress has tried to provide private-sector workers with the same flexible benefits enjoyed by public-sector workers. And as Chairwoman Foxx mentioned, even former President Bill Clinton supported an effort to allow private-sector workers to choose between paid time off and cash wages as compensation for overtime.
The first proposal was introduced in the 1990s, but it has gone through significant changes since then. Democrats and labor unions raised concerns that private-sector workers needed stronger protections than public-sector workers. Republicans listened, and ample changes have been made over the years to enhance safeguards for workers.
The bill would ensure the decision to receive comp time is completely voluntary. For example, the bill requires a written agreement between each worker and their employer — a provision backed by then-President Clinton. If the employee changes his or her mind, they can switch to receiving cash wages whenever they choose.
Workers have control over when to use their comp time. Employees can use their paid time off as long as reasonable notice is given and the request doesn’t unduly disrupt the workplace. This is the same commonsense standard used in the public sector. It’s the same standard used under the Family and Medical Leave Act. And I imagine it’s the same standard used in each of our congressional offices.
In the past, Democrats expressed concerns that workers would accrue too much comp time. Once again, Republicans listened and set the maximum accrual at 160 hours, which is less than what’s allowed in the public sector. Additionally, employees have the right to cash out their comp time at any time for any reason. If they have any unused hours at the end of the year, they would receive a cash payment.
Democrats have also voiced the need to protect collective-bargaining agreements, which is why this bill requires both the employer and the union to agree on comp time.
Some feared workers would be forced to accept comp time instead of cash wages. But this bill explicitly prohibits intimidation, threats, or coercion in any form. Employers who take advantage of their employees would face the same penalties as they would for other wage violations.
Employers found in violation of the law would be liable for double damages and any attorney fees incurred by the employee. As is the case with any overtime violations, employees also have the right to file a charge through the Department of Labor at no cost. As a labor attorney who has worked with employers on these issues for years, I can say that no sensible employer would take advantage of an employee and risk double damages, exorbitant attorney fees, and a legal battle with the federal government.
This is a very thoughtful proposal that is carefully drafted to protect the rights of workers. It strikes an important balance between putting workers in control and ensuring employers can successfully offer more flexibility to their employees.
To members who are still skeptical, please know this legislation reflects President Clinton’s recommendation to include a sunset provision. Five years from now, Congress would have to pass this legislation again. Before the sunset, Members would receive a report from the Government Accountability Office on the impact of comp time. We will have the opportunity to review the real-world effect of this legislation and make any changes if needed.
All we are trying to do here is give workers a choice. Policies written in the 1930s that are out of step with the needs of the 21st century workforce shouldn’t stand in the way of flexibility for workers and their families. Neither should so-called progressives who have had their concerns answered and addressed.
The substitute amendment I am offering makes technical changes to the underlying bill. I urge all of my colleagues to support the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017, and I yield back the balance of my time.
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This proposal is about time and flexibility. Across the country, there are many working parents struggling to find enough time to spend with their children; students doing their best to juggle a full-time job and earn a college degree; and employees in need of more time to care for an aging relative or fulfill other personal responsibilities.
There are only so many hours in the day, and rigid 9 to 5 work schedules can make it difficult for many Americans to keep up with their personal and professional lives. Unfortunately, an outdated labor law isn’t helping. Workers today are stuck under federal rules that restrict flexibility in the workplace.
Recognizing a change to the Fair Labor Standards Act was needed, Republicans and Democrats came together more than 30 years ago to amend the law and empower workers with more flexibility. But there’s a catch. The change applied only to workers in the public sector.
Congress gave state and local government employers the option of offering employees entitled to overtime pay the choice between paid time off and cash wages. However, the federal government still prohibits private-sector workers from receiving the same choice.
This double standard isn’t fair. Private-sector workers should have the same freedom and flexibility provided to workers in the public sector.
Unfortunately, our Democrat colleagues and liberal special interests have defended this double standard for years. To the busy parents who want more time to attend their kid’s soccer games; to the students who need a break from work to study for finals; and to the single mom who wants more time and flexibility to spend with a newborn — the message of our colleagues is this: Government knows best.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 85 percent of employees say workplace flexibility is important when considering a new job. Yet there are some in Washington who think the government should serve as a barrier to the type of flexible job so many Americans are looking for.
“It may seem odd that Democrats oppose a sensible idea that most workers say they want.” Those aren’t my words. Surprisingly, those are the words from a New York Times editorial published in 1997.
The Democrats’ logic simply doesn’t make sense. Why are so-called progressives clinging to a policy from the 1930s that prohibits private-sector workers from exercising the same choices available to government workers?
The answer is Big Labor. If powerful union bosses believe workers should be denied this choice, so too do Democrats in Congress.
They haven’t always taken such an extreme approach. During his nomination acceptance speech, former President Bill Clinton said we should pass a law that “allows employees to take their overtime pay in money, or in time off, depending on what’s better for their family.” And speaking from the Oval Office as he addressed the nation, President Clinton said comp time legislation would “be good for workers, good for business, good for our economy, and strong in the building of our families.”
But today, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle believe Washington knows what’s best for families. They believe the federal government should have control over people’s time and work schedules. They will not stand up to special interest groups. So in the name of “worker protection,” they’re doing everything they can to deny Americans more opportunities to balance work and family.
Over the years, Republicans have engaged in a good faith effort to address concerns about the proposal. The bill before us today has very strong worker protections — even stronger than those that exist in the public sector. For example, an employee can cash out unused comp time at any time for any reason. This bill puts workers in control over their earned time off, and they can switch back to receiving cash wages for overtime hours whenever they choose.
In no way does this proposal undermine existing protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Workers would accrue comp time at the long-standing overtime rate of time-and-a-half.
My colleague Bradley Byrne will explain the worker protections the bill provides in greater detail. But the point is that progressives and the far-left are running out of excuses not to support this commonsense legislation.
I want to thank Representative Martha Roby for championing this proposal. It represents a positive step to improve the quality of life of hardworking Americans. I hope Democrats and Republicans can come together and finally provide workers with the choice, flexibility, and freedom they deserve.
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Outcome of Recently Argued “Kokesh” SCOTUS Case Will Impact SEC’s Use of Potent Disgorgement Authority
Federal Court Properly Defers to Oklahoma Oil and Gas Oversight, Rejects Sierra Club Bid for Federal Regulation
Nancy Zurbuchen Appointed Small Business Advocate for Region 7
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Nancy Zurbuchen, a Missouri businesswoman, has been appointed small business advocate for federal Region 7. In this role, Zurbuchen will be the direct link between the region’s small business owners, state and local government agencies, state legislators, small business associations and the Office of Advocacy of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Zurbuchen will be Advocacy’s eyes and ears in Region 7, which covers Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri.
Philip D. Lovas Appointed Small Business Advocate for Region 9
With the Supreme Court Poised to Address Personal Jurisdiction Again, State High Courts Reject Attempts to Evade “Daimler v. Bauman”
Preserving Employee Wellness Programs
By Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
From the start of the new Congress and new administration, reining in the regulatory state has been a leading priority — and for good reason.
In recent years, the American people have endured an unprecedented regulatory onslaught. Determined to advance an extreme liberal agenda, unelected bureaucrats of the Obama administration came up with new regulatory schemes impacting virtually every aspect of American life.
They sure were busy. During President Obama’s final year in office, there were 18 new rules and regulations for every law Congress passed. The 2016 issue of the Federal Register included 97,110 pages of new regulations — the highest in the register’s 80-year history.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration often failed to do its due diligence and ensure new rules passed a basic test of common sense. At times, federal agencies even issued regulations that directly contradicted others already on the books.
Case in point: inconsistent rules surrounding voluntary employee wellness plans.
Employee wellness plans have been around for decades and have typically received bipartisan support. In fact, buried in Obamacare’s hundreds of pages of mandates and failed policies is a free-market provision giving private-sector workers more opportunities to participate in these voluntary plans.
It was one of the few things Democrats got right in an otherwise bad law. Three federal agencies then issued rules implementing the law’s wellness policies. But then, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission got involved and issued its own set of rules that conflicted with the others.
Now, when employers are implementing wellness policies in their workplaces, they eventually reach a confusing fork in the road. It’s like coming to a stop sign while driving and finding two contradictory signs. One sign reads, “right turn only,” while the other sign reads, “left turn only.” Although both turns seem permitted, no matter which decision drivers make, they could still be punished.
That’s not fair to employers or workers. That is why I introduced the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act to reaffirm the wellness policies Congress enacted in 2010 and provide legal certainty.
The word “preserving” is critical. Voluntary wellness plans are currently available to tens of millions of workers and their family members. A 2011 report by the Office of the Surgeon General highlights that every dollar spent on a workplace wellness plan can result in $3.27 in lower medical costs.
Many have seized the opportunity to improve their quality of life and reduce their health insurance premiums. Many others have not. Each individual should be free to choose what is best for his or her family. Nothing under the legislation undermines this fundamental right.
Still, various organizations are spreading fear and misinformation about the bill because they oppose wellness plans altogether. They were silent while this issue was addressed under Mr. Obama’s watch, yet now they seem opposed to workers having this option.
Perhaps the most blatant falsehood is that the bill will force employees to turn over genetic information to their employers. Some have called this a “genetic testing” bill, though the words are nowhere in the legislation.
It may be surprising to learn that the federal law protecting genetic information — the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) — has always allowed requests for this information as part of voluntary wellness plans. When Republicans and Democrats passed the law in 2008, we trusted workers to decide what’s best for their families.
Genetic information is extremely sensitive, and no one should be forced or coerced into disclosing this information. I supported GINA then and now because it provides strong protections against employment discrimination and imposes robust confidentiality requirements on the use of genetic information. These policies will continue to protect workers under the bill I propose.
If concerned citizens have ideas for improving these protections, please know that I am listening. Unfortunately, the loudest voices today are the so-called experts and special interests who always want to control decisions that are best left to individuals and families. They could care less about the conflicting regulations this bill seeks to address because they don’t like wellness plans and want to deny access to them.
But at the end of the day, this bill was never about the merits of employee wellness plans. That debate already passed when Democrats encouraged employers to expand the use of these plans in the so-called Affordable Care Act.With millions of Americans already enrolled in a voluntary wellness plan, it’s important that employers have clear and consistent rules to follow. Passing legislation to correct the Obama administration’s regulatory incompetency is a common-sense step.
To read online, click here.
WCOE's 2017 Women Build America Annual Leadership Conference was held in Washington, D.C. on April 2–4, 2017. The three-day Conference started with High Tea Celebration on Sunday afternoon followed by dine-arounds, Monday speakers and panelists, Monday night's Awards Gala, and culminated with the Legislative Day and lunch at the Willard Hotel.
Sunday High Tea – Patrick Jephson, Unlock Your Hidden Strengths
Left to right: Lee Cunningham, Danette Beck, Patrick Jephson, Caryn Boisen, and Theresa Kern
Patrick Jephson, former Chief of Staff to HRH The Princess of Wales, shared how Princess Diana expressed her vision and direction in positive ways under the tough scrutiny of the Royal Family. Mr. Jephson also described ways to build a personal brand using real life examples from his days with Princess Diana.
Monday Breakfast – Small Business Briefing
Vivian Ling, Staff Attorney, House Small Business Committee
Vivian Ling led a lively, interactive discussion where Conference attendees provided input about current laws and regulations affecting small businesses. Ms. Ling shared legislative changes currently being considered by the members of the House Small Business Committee. She advised attendees to reach out to their Congressmen, trade associations, and industry representatives to express their views and concerns.
Monday Morning Session I – Improv(e) Your Networking
Kevin Reome, Work Play Improv
Left to right: Kevin Reome, Danette Beck, Brenda Radmacher, Cori MacCallum
Improvisation instructor Kevin Reome energized Conference attendees with several exercises to improve their networking skills. He also discussed the importance of being present and interested in conversation.
Monday Morning Session II – Find Your Guru: The Value of Trusted Advisors
Stephanie Burns, Turner Construction; Mary Kay Lanzillotta, Hartman-Cox Architects; Jennifer Lee, Travelers; and Christi Reimer, AGC
The panelists provided advice on how to hone one's craft by getting involved in trade organizations such as WCOE and having one's own advisory panel. They encouraged attendees to create a plan that can guide them to the person who can teach desired skills and provide feedback. The panelists shared efforts they have made in their companies including Turner's internal resource group and a variety of diversity programs at Travelers.
Luncheon Speaker – National Women's History Museum
Joan Bradley Wages
Joan Bradley Wages provided inspirational words about how our foremothers played an important role in the history of America and the importance of inspiring dreams and opportunities for young girls. Ms. Wages also announced that a bill was recently introduced in the House of Representatives (H.R. 19) to establish a women's history museum as part of the Smithsonian Institution.
Keynote Luncheon Speaker – The Power and Importance of Collaborative Strength
Jenni Prisk, Prisk Communications
Sophia Cavalli and Jenni Prisk
Stressing the importance of communication, Jenni Prisk spoke about how to present oneself in a collaborative environment as a strong and confident participant. She encouraged attendees to be the example that others look up to and to own one's mistakes as much as one's successes.
Monday Afternoon Session I – The Power to Breakthrough: Pursuing Passions Despite Social Norms
Tracy Young, PlanGrid
PlanGrid Leadership Team and Lee Cunningham
Tracy Young, co-founder of PlanGrid, encouraged attendees to acknowledge gender bias, pursue their passions despite social norms, and be a good example for the next generation. She also shared how teams with more women members outperform teams with more men because women have better collaborative skills.
Monday Afternoon Session II – Innovative Solutions for Small Local Businesses
Jamie Rhee, Chief Procurement Officer, City of Chicago
Ms. Rhee shared information and best practices for successfully competing for public construction contracts including researching and understanding compliance, certification requirements, and mentorship and incentive programs available. She also encouraged attendees to attend workshops offered by public agencies.
Monday Afternoon Session III – Leverage Your Worth: The Power of Negotiating Effectively
Brenda Radmacher, Wood Smith Henning & Berman and WCOE Chapter President
Brenda Radmacher provided attendees with tools for successful negotiating. Her presentation included how to overcome the fear of negotiating, the steps of the negotiating process, and how to prepare for the process.
Tuesday Luncheon – New Administration Briefing: What's in Store for 2017 and Beyond
Dana Thompson, SMACNA
Dana Thompson provided insights regarding the new Administration. Attendees heard about opportunities for construction contractors, including a number of promises to address the Nation's infrastructure needs. Attendees also learned about some of the challenges facing the construction industry, particularly the union segment of the industry.
Supreme Court Cert Grant in “Farha v. US” Can Clarify Level of Criminal Intent Needed to Prove “Knowledge”
Joseph M. DiStasio Appointed Small Business Advocate for Region 1
As part of its implementation of Executive Order 13777, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has opened a docket requesting comments from the public on the evaluation of existing regulations. In addition, EPA’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) is holding a public meeting on April 25 in Washington DC to solicit additional input.