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Statement by Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) | Subcommittee Hearing on The Opioids Epidemic: Implications for America's Workplaces

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 12:00am

Good morning, and thank you Chairman Walberg for beginning today’s joint subcommittee hearing. 

I’m pleased to be joining our witnesses and members of both subcommittees as we continue the discussion on the impact the opioid epidemic is having on American communities and workplaces.

The alarming increase in the abuse and misuse of opioids is a matter of great national concern, and I am pleased that Congress and the private sector are having these discussions and actively looking for ways to reverse the damage of opioids in our communities.

One of the most alarming aspects of this epidemic is that misuse and abuse of opioids can happen so quickly, and often begins with prescription medication.

My home state of Alabama is not immune from this troubling development. Alabama ranks first in the nation in the number of painkiller prescriptions per capita, with more than 5.8 million opioid prescriptions written in 2015. That’s more than 1.2 prescriptions per person.

An unfortunate reality is that this epidemic is happening to our coworkers, and in business communities large and small. Employers and employees alike are seeing the personal and economic toll this epidemic is having.

Only now are we grasping the tragic statistics that illustrate the impact this problem is having on the American workforce. According to one recent estimate, opioid abuse costs employers $18 billion per year in sick days and medical expenses.

It is troubling to hear that workplaces around the country have been affected by opioid misuse and addiction. But increased costs are not the most troubling way this epidemic has impacted the workplace. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of overdose fatalities on the job has increased by at least 25 percent annually since 2012.

These facts are alarming because they show that employees who abuse drugs, like opioids, are creating unintended consequences for their fellow coworkers.

Those who misuse any illicit substance while at work are creating a risky environment, and that can also lead to workplace incidents where other employees could be hurt on the job.  

Employers are recognizing the risks that opioid abuse has on the workplace, and it is reassuring to hear that businesses large and small are taking steps to address this problem in their organizations.

It is encouraging to hear that more employers are looking for ways to identify, educate, and assist employees who struggle with opioid abuse and addiction. Employee Assistance Programs are a great tool to help employees get the resources they need to start on the road to recovery. I do believe more can and should be done to make employees more aware of these resources before it is too late.

Employers and fellow coworkers play a pivotal role in keeping workplaces safe across the country. I join my colleagues in cautioning the federal government from taking broad and sweeping action to create unnecessary bureaucratic mandates that would inhibit employers who know what programs work best for their individual employees.

Our witnesses today have proven that they are uniquely positioned to tell us more about how companies are adopting and executing new best practices to combat this tragic epidemic in our communities. I would like to thank the witnesses for sharing their stories about how the opioid epidemic affects the workplace, as well aswhat they are doing to help solve this problem.

Working together with government, businesses, nonprofits, and local communities, I am hopeful we can bring an end to the opioid epidemic.

To read the PDF version, click here.

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Opening Statement by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) | Subcommittee Hearing on The Opioids Epidemic: Implications for America's Workplaces

Thu, 02/15/2018 - 12:00am

Good morning, and welcome to today’s joint subcommittee hearing with the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. I’d like to thank our witnesses for joining us for this important discussion on how the opioid epidemic is impacting workplaces, workers, and families cross this country.

The tragic opioid epidemic has unfortunately become a major part of our national conversation, and a problem that we must understand and address.

Too many Americans – from all walks of life and from all parts of the country – are facing the terrifying realities of opioid abuse, and far too many are dying from opioid misuse and overdose every day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid use (including prescription opioids, heroin, and fentanyl) was the cause of over 42,000 deaths in 2016, 40 percent of which involved a prescription.

As policymakers, we need these statistics to inform what we do. But it’s most important to remember that every casualty was a person with incredible potential.

Not only were they members of our larger social communities, they were members of our work communities.

Our coworkers see more of us during the average day than even our own families. The people we see in the workplace have a significant role in each of our lives, and are part of the community around us.

Many Americans work alongside those who suffer from opioid misuse, but may not understand what can be done to help their fellow coworker.

According to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, 70 percent of the 14.8 million individuals that are misusing drugs, including opioids, are currently employed.

While this statistic is alarming, it also shows the workplace can be a resource for the community to identify those who are struggling with opioid misuse. And, we are already seeing some employers assisting employees in their treatment and rehabilitation.

Already, many employers have deemed it necessary to update or promote existing policies to provide support to employees who struggle with opioid abuse.

In fact, 70 percent of U.S. companies and 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have an employee assistance program to assist employees struggling with substance abuse and other problems.

It is reassuring to see these kinds of programs and practices implemented by companies who want to see their employees healthy and productive.  But more needs to be done.

While much of the current dialog is about the dangers of the opioid epidemic, we also need to hear about the proactive steps employers are taking to fight this epidemic within their workplaces and the broader community.

That brings us to today’s discussion of how the opioid epidemic is impacting American workers and what some employers are doing to address this problem.

We must understand that the federal government must not act as a barrier or tie the hands of employers when it comes to addressing opioid abuse and the workplace. Rather, we should fortify employers’ efforts to help their employees and family members, who are affected by this epidemic.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today, and thank Chairman Byrne for co-chairing this important joint subcommittee hearing.

To read the PDF version, click here.

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Opening Statement by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) | Subcommittee Hearing on Examining the Government’s Management of Native American Schools

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 12:00am

Good morning, and welcome to today’s subcommittee hearing. I’d like to thank our witness, Mr. Tony Dearman, Director of the Bureau of Indian Education, and our members for joining today’s important discussion regarding the government’s management of Native American schools.

Under the Department of Interior, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) is tasked with providing Native American children with a high-quality education that upholds their tribes’ traditions and culture.

Over 47,000 students in 183 elementary and secondary schools depend on this government agency to provide them with educational opportunities in a safe and healthful learning environment.

Unfortunately, so many Native American children are not receiving the education they deserve.

Over the years, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has expressed concern regarding BIE’s ability to effectively manage the schools under its jurisdiction. In 2017, the GAO placed BIE on its High Risk List, identifying the bureau as one of several government programs and offices at risk of exhibiting a high degree of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.

This is especially alarming for me to hear because it involves children in K-12 education, the most formative and important stage in a student’s career as a learner.

Site visits have also indicated to members of the committee that the schools managed by BIE frequently fail to provide students with an environment that keeps them safe and healthy.

Three years ago, I was a first-hand witness to the inadequate school conditions Native American children are faced with. On a visit to Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School in Northern Minnesota with then-Chairman John Kline, I observed the absence of basic classroom supplies like desks and paper, foundational and structural problems, and health hazards like rodent infestations.

Seeing the problems with my own eyes galvanized me to work more closely with the BIE so that we can improve conditions for these children. We must do better by these students, including ensuring access to safe schools and improved academic opportunities.

In 2014, the Secretary of Interior directed the Bureau of Indian Affairs to restructure BIE from a school operating organization to a school improvement organization. This change will reorganize BIE to function more like a state educational agency that oversees the system, rather than a local educational agency tasked with school operation.

By reorienting BIE to a role that will provide technical assistance to schools, the Department of Interior will be able to work with Congress and the GAO to rehabilitate BIE so that it’s better equipped to serve its students and improve its facilities.

According to GAO, restructuring of BIE is currently behind schedule, but it is the committee’s hope that with the leadership of the new administration, BIE will be able to accelerate its timeline to deliver better results for its schools and students.

As this committee continues to follow the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act and BIE’s ongoing restructuring efforts, it is important that we continue the dialogue about opportunities to better serve Native American students in attendance at BIE schools.

Today’s hearing presents such a chance to explore ideas and initiatives to improve schools and strengthen education, as well as hear from the BIE’s director Tony Dearman about what steps are being taken to restructure the bureau both quickly and effectively.

I look forward to learning from our witness about the Bureau of Indian Education and the schools under its jurisdiction, and I am encouraged that today we can make significant progress on behalf of these students. With that, I will now recognize Ranking Member Polis for his opening remarks.

To read the PDF version, click here.

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Opening Statement by Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) | Subcommittee Hearing on MSHA Policies and Priorities

Tue, 02/06/2018 - 12:00am

Good morning, and welcome to today’s subcommittee hearing. I’d like to thank our witness, David Zatezalo, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, and our members for joining today’s important discussion regarding the policies and priorities of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA).

Mining is not only essential for America’s homes and businesses; it is an essential industry for the economy. This is an industry that literally keeps the lights on, and it deserves our gratitude.

Workers in the mining industry have been the unsung heroes of the American economy, and thanks to President Trump, many Americans are being reminded of how much we rely on miners on a daily basis.

In 2017, more than 319,000 Americans were employed by the mining industry, and we must ensure they have a safe and healthful workplace.

We ask so much of these hardworking Americans, and vital policies are in place to provide them with the safest environment possible.

For the federal government, this task falls on MSHA. Created by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, it is the duty of MSHA to establish and enforce regulations governing all mining activities both above and below ground.

Of course, safety is very important to the mining industry as well, and we commend the large majority of law-abiding companies in the industry who do the right thing.

Mine safety remains a major priority for this Committee, and we are particularly interested in how the federal government is regulating the mining industry to ensure the highest standards of safety while also allowing the industry to innovate for the benefit of mine workers and the American economy.

Among other issues, today’s hearing will examine the regulatory agenda of MSHA, and how MSHA intends to work with all industry stakeholders to promote the best possible policies and practices that protect mine workers and encourage economic growth.

Unfortunately, this was not always the stance of MSHA in recent years.   

America is seeing a new age of innovation and enthusiasm in the mining industry. The Trump Administration has made clear that it will promote policies that recognize the economic importance of the mining industry, and this Committee intends to play a key role in these efforts.

Congress will continue to work with all of the relevant stakeholders in order to create and promote policies that improve the safety and overall strength of the mining industry.

We urge this administration, as we did the prior administration, to hold bad actors accountable. At the same time, MSHA should direct its focus towards a more collaborative approach with the mining industry to address worker safety.

The American mining industry plays a major role in driving the American economy, and will continue to do so. We look forward to hearing from Assistant Secretary Zatezalo—who I should add is a former miner himself—in order to understand the current state of workplace safety within the industry, and what can be done to strengthen American mining and protect the safety of mine workers.

To read the PDF version, click here.

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Opening Statement by Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) | Hearing on Evidence-Based Policymaking

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 12:00am

Good morning, and welcome to this morning’s hearing on evidence-based policymaking. As a part of this discussion, we will hear about the importance of education research and student privacy protection.

There is nothing new about the federal government’s use of data to better understand its citizens and how government programs serve them. In fact, even as the U.S. Constitution was being debated and ratified, there were calls for a national census in order for the new government to have an understanding of the population of the new republic.

While the federal government has changed the way it collects and uses data since its founding, data remains a major resource to drive informed policymaking decisions.

Both Republicans and Democrats agree that use of good research and evidence allows us to make good policy.

When policymakers can see the methods and results, then we have a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t work for policymaking decisions in the future.

More importantly, when policymakers can point to data and evidence behind their decisions, there is an added layer of accountability to policy.

We need to know what works for students who need a high-quality education, and for workers who are seeking the skills they need to succeed.

Today’s hearing will specifically focus on the need for research in the  education field to promote good evidence-based decision making, while also exploring how that is done while protecting student privacy.

In 2017, the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking released its report on how to improve the federal government’s use of evidence for a more effective government.

Within that report, the Commission called for improvements to secure access to private and confidential data, while also modernizing privacy protection for evidence-building research.

Education research can be a powerful tool to help our students, but that information should not come at the cost of a student’s private and personal information.

Currently, two primary laws govern use of education research and student data privacy protections. The Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA), in addition to other things, authorizes the Department of Education’s research arm. The second is the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that protects student privacy by establishing parents’ and students’ rights to access their student records and limits who else can see those records. The changing nature of data use and technology for educational purposes, the use of evidence and research in policymaking, and the public’s consistent call for privacy protections over student data are why we are here today.  We need to have a discussion on what’s working, what could be improved, and the issues faced by students, families, educators, and researchers. While this is not a hearing about those bills, I believe what we learn today will help us as we look to update and modernize them.

We have gathered a diverse group of witnesses who will give us their perspectives on how education research is used to drive evidence-based policymaking.

I look forward to the discussion today, and hope this committee continues to be a leader in its use of evidence-based policymaking.

To read the PDF version, click here.

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Opening Statement by Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) | Markup of H.R. 4508, the PROSPER Act

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 12:00am
We are here today to consider H.R. 4508, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act—the PROSPER Act.

We have a lot of work ahead of us today, so in the hopes of leading by example, I will keep my remarks brief.

It is my belief that lifelong learning is what enables Americans to pursue the lives they want for themselves. The desire for lifelong learning is not always developed in a semester-by-semester or a 2, 4, or 6 year degree program. It is an individual and deeply personal calling that drives people to learn more about the world around them, and in turn, learn more about themselves. 

Lifelong learning is the root of all innovation, which, in this country, has always been the foundation for real prosperity.

It was the desire to be a lifelong learner that helped me persevere through the seven long years it took for me to become the first member of my family to earn a baccalaureate degree.

I saw that same desire for lifelong learning in the students I worked with for many years as a college instructor, academic advisor, and administrator. 

The conversations I had with those students over the years have stayed with me as we have worked toward this markup today. Those students came from different backgrounds, different communities, all kinds of family structures, and were all ages. But they asked the same questions—the same questions I asked: 

“Can I finish this program on time?”

“Can I finish this program at all?”

“How am I ever going to pay for this?”

“Will I get a job when I graduate?”

“Is all of this work even worth it?”

The times have changed, but for any student in any sector of higher education, the questions have not. That is why we’re here today.

Today, there are six million unfilled jobs in this country. Those jobs are unfilled because many employers have found that applicants lack the needed skills for those jobs.

Today, Americans carry more than a trillion dollars in student debt. Somehow, despite the six types of federal student loans, nine repayment plans, eight forgiveness programs, and 32 deferment and forbearance options out there, college costs continue to surge, leaving millions of families paying the price for well-intentioned but poorly executed federal involvement.

That is why this bill is before us today. No Americans—no matter their walk of life—can afford for us to simply reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). They need us to reform it.

The members of this committee have much to be proud of, not just in this bill, but over the course of this year. This spring, when we worked together to introduce, mark up, and see the House pass the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, we sent a clear message to the overwhelming majority of Americans who do not have a baccalaureate degree.

We affirmed the simple fact that all education is career education, and that their options and their choices mattered to us. We showed them that we agreed with them that there is real dignity and value in pursuing a technical skills-based education that allows them to be the best they could be in the careers they really wanted to pursue.

The PROSPER Act sends that same message to those who believe that a postsecondary education is the key to their future success. It reforms federal education policies to allow, not hinder, the pursuit of lifelong learning, wherever that may lead.

It promotes innovation, access, and completion—for students. It simplifies and improves student aid—for students. It empowers students and families to make informed decisions, and it ensures strong accountability and a limited federal role so institutions spend less time complying with outdated federal requirements and spend more time and resources on what’s really important—the students.

No bill is perfect when it begins its course through the legislative process, and we can all agree that no bill is perfect when it reaches the end of the legislative process. But we are here today because we cannot allow the status quo to continue. High school students, stay-at-home moms, single parents working multiple jobs to make ends meet, older Americans who still have so much to offer—these are just a few examples of those looking to postsecondary options to help them live a successful life.

I thank the members of this committee who have worked together so diligently with these Americans, our constituents, in mind. The PROSPER Act is for them.

To read the PDF version, click here.

To learn more about the PROSPER Act, click here.

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Opening Statement by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) | Markup of H.R. 4508, the PROSPER Act

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 12:00am

I am proud to be a cosponsor of the PROSPER Act, and truly believe the measures within this bill are essential to improve access, completion, and accountability across the higher education system. Most importantly, it will provide students with the opportunity to complete an education that will put them one step closer to achieving the American Dream.

I will echo what Chairwoman Foxx has said in the past to members of this committee as we crafted the PROSPER Act: we are in the business of reforming higher education, not just reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.

A simple reauthorization of the 1965 law will not address the needs of our current workforce that is over 6 million skilled workers short, nor will it reverse the $1.4 trillion of outstanding student loan debt that is placing a drag on the economy.

These facts have stayed with me as the full committee and my subcommittee held twenty-six hearings in the 113th, 114th, and 115th Congresses on issues within higher education. Four of those hearings were held during this Congress alone.

Each of those hearings touched on how the current higher education system is in need of reforms to meet the needs of students, families, future workers, and the employers of tomorrow.

I’m also happy to say that many of the issues discussed in those hearings are addressed in the PROSPER Act.

While the conversations we have had in this committee have been essential to the PROSPER Act in its current form, there are conversations that we have conducted that are even more important: those with our constituents.

Many people have expressed their concerns about the lack of flexibility in grant and loan programs for potential students seeking advanced studies, and others have shared the difficulties associated with earning a traditional degree and finding a good-paying job.

Those who share these concerns are not alone. A September Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 49% of Americans believe a four-year degree will actually lead to a good job and pay and only 47% of Americans aren’t sure college is worth it anymore.

These numbers emphasize that the status quo in higher education is not enough to serve students, families, or institutions, so it is time we change the status quo with meaningful reforms.

The stories I have heard from students and families in Kentucky have been a constant reminder for the need to stop simply talking about reforming higher education; it’s time to actually put forward a bill that achieves needed reforms.

As chairman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development, it has been a privilege of mine to work with Chairwoman Foxx and members of this committee to introduce a bill with real reforms to address the needs of today’s students, as well as the needs of the institutions they attend.

Within the PROSPER Act, we are promoting completion, helping institutions evolve to meet the changing needs of students and the workforce, improving the complex and costly student financial aid system, and promoting accountability for institutions. Additionally, we are giving students a pipeline to the workforce, which is something never before addressed in higher education legislation.

To read the PDF version, click here.

To learn more about the PROSPER Act, click here.

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Opening Statement of Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) | Hearing on Workplace Leave Policies

Wed, 12/06/2017 - 12:00am

This century has a vastly different business landscape than the last. From the advent of the gig economy to the demand for telework and other work-life policies that address employees’ needs, “business as usual” just doesn’t work for working families anymore. In response, many employers have implemented and continue to implement innovative paid leave policies.

In fact, today’s workers are starting to consider these paid leave policies alongside other traditional, tangible benefits like pay raises. A 2015 study conducted by Harris Poll and Glassdoor found that nearly four in five employees would prefer new or additional benefits or perks over a pay increase.

Additional studies have validated this employment trend even more in recent years. This year, the HR Policy Association released a study that noted “nearly 70 percent of [its] members find that millennials expect greater flexibility with regard to scheduling and time off.”

Innovative paid leave policies are not only an important tool for businesses to attract and retain the best employees, but they also give workers across all business sectors the ability to create a better work-life balance. Time off is increasingly important to employees, whether it’s used to go back to school, care for a child or loved one, or just to spend more time with family.

Employers are responding to these changing expectations by offering employees a wider variety of benefits. In addition to providing traditional paid time off and sick leave, an increasing number of companies have added flexible work arrangement options to their employment leave policies. These arrangements may allow employees to take advantage of cutting-edge offerings like flexible hours, telecommuting, compressed work weeks, and job sharing. Importantly, these arrangements are tailored to the needs of the employer’s workforce.

As employers continue to develop and deploy these leave policies, there has been a significant increase in new and oftentimes conflicting state and local paid leave mandates. This growing patchwork of mandates across multiple jurisdictions creates a real administrative and implementation burden, particularly on small businesses, while also increasing compliance costs for employers.

For example, currently there are eight states and over 30 localities with paid leave laws on the books. By contrast, 20 states have bans against local paid sick leave laws.

As you might imagine, all these state and local laws are far from consistent. The current patchwork of paid leave laws at the state and local level can pose challenges to employers of all sizes trying to navigate them. And the mandatory nature of these laws deprives businesses of the freedom to craft individualized policies to best address the needs of their employees. That doesn’t help employers, and it doesn’t help their workers. Today’s hearing should give all of us valuable, firsthand insight into the evolving topic of workplace leave policies, and I look forward to the discussion.

Rep. Walberg Opening Statement (R-MI) | Subcommittee Hearing on “Financial Challenges Facing the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation: Implications for Pension Plans, Workers, and Retirees"

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 12:00am

Good morning, and welcome to today’s subcommittee hearing on the financial challenges facing the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and the impact to workers and retirees.

George Miller was a liberal lion of this Committee. While we very often disagreed, I admired his commitment to ensuring Americans have the ability to retire with dignity.

In 2014, he worked with John Kline, then our Chairman, to try to solve a real problem: a retirement system on the brink of collapse. They put politics aside, worked with employers and labor unions, and negotiated a set of reforms to the multiemployer pension system in order to preserve benefits for millions of workers. President Obama signed this bipartisan approach into law in 2014.

The law was based on the premise that the plan trustees who have a legal and moral obligation to pensioners and workers should have the ability to take early action in order to avoid disaster.

While the 2014 statute was an important step, regulations written by President Obama’s Treasury Department implementing the law made it difficult if not impossible for trustees to use the tools the law contains. And so, the problems continue. We know they persist because the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the backstop for private defined benefit plans, released its annual report two weeks ago. According to PBGC, more than 100 multiemployer plans are expected to fail, in addition to the 72 that already have.

This kind of widespread collapse will directly impact the millions of workers, retirees, and their families who spent their careers planning their retirement with these promised pension benefits in mind. And who promised these benefits? Unions and employers who established and administered these plans. The federal government and non-union workers had no role in negotiating the contracts that made the promises that will be broken. Mr. Miller, when he chaired this Committee, recognized this. That’s why this Committee, under his leadership in 2009, refused to advance a legislative proposal to put taxpayers on the hook for these promises.

Implementation of the 2014 law has been ineffective, and the workers and retirees in these plans are worse off because of it. When their plans fail, their benefits will be cut, in many cases significantly. And when these retirement systems fail, the PBGC will collapse as well.

The agency’s multiemployer insurance program currently has about $2 billion in assets, receives less than $300 million in premium revenue annually, and has a long term deficit of $65.1 billion. Again, that’s $65 billion. When the money runs out, likely sometime in 2025, pensioners will receive pennies on the dollar of what they were promised. Employers will close their doors, and previously healthy plans may go bankrupt.

Congress took bipartisan action just three years ago to prevent this looming disaster. We believe the Trump administration will work hard to ensure the law’s tools are utilized more appropriately. But if Congress is to consider further reforms, it’s critical that the Committee fully understand the scope of the financial challenges facing PBGC.

Today’s witness, Tom Reeder, is the PBGC’s director. He administers not just the multiemployer insurance program, but also the agency’s very large insurance program for single-employer defined benefit plans. While the finances of that program are trending upward, it is still underfunded by nearly $11 billion. That program insures more than 27 million Americans in more than 22,000 pension plans. We look forward to examining that program in today’s hearing as well.

There are no easy answers to these problems. We owe it to workers, retirees, employers and taxpayers to put politics aside and work toward finding a fiscally responsible, bipartisan solution. Millions of Americans are counting on us.

To read PDF version, click here.

Opening Statement by Rep. Virginia Fox (R-NC) | Hearing on “Examining the Policies and the Priorities of the U.S. Department of Labor”

Wed, 11/15/2017 - 12:00am

The Department of Labor is on the frontline of the issues facing workers and job creators, and it sets policies that have a widespread impact on our nation’s economy, employment growth, retirement security, and more.

Whether they relate to health care, worker protections, retirement planning, workforce development, or employee wages and benefits — it is the responsibility of this committee to ensure those policies are in the best interest of workers, employers, and taxpayers.

I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: No matter what party controls the administration – this committee is dedicated to robust oversight. We take our oversight responsibilities very seriously.  Today’s hearing is the latest step in our effort to hold federal government officials accountable.

The American people are counting on that accountability, especially at a time when the economy is still improving. We are all encouraged by the economic growth we have seen this year. In the third quarter of 2017, real GDP increased at an annual rate of 3 percent. That is a remarkable improvement, considering it’s twice as much as the mere 1.5 percent growth rate we saw during the final year of the Obama administration.

It’s also great to see more and more Americans getting back to work. Nearly 1.5 million jobs have been added since February. Meaningful progress has been made, but there’s no question we have more work to do after eight years of lost opportunity.

However, even though the unemployment rate is down, we still have 6.5 million workers out of work, including 1.6 million on a long-term basis. 4.8 million workers are working part-time because their hours have been cut back or because they were unable to find a full-time job.

At the same time, we have 6.1 million jobs unfilled, due in part to our nation’s skills gap. Expanding pathways to career success is a critical component to closing this gap and helping more Americans find good-paying jobs. That’s why Congress and the administration have made workforce development and skills-based education a leading priority.

This week happens to be National Apprenticeship Week, and so we are eager to hear from you, Mr. Secretary, on the steps the department plans to take to promote apprenticeships and other skills-based education programs.

This is something our committee has been focused on for quite some time now, and it is encouraging to have a partner in the White House and the Department of Labor. We look forward to further discussion of how we can work together to expand educational opportunities and empower more Americans to realize their God-given potential.

In addition, I hope that you will be able to provide committee members and the public with your views about the department’s efforts to advance economic opportunities for workers by strengthening workplace democracy, ensuring safe and healthy workplaces, enhancing retirement security, and providing workers and employers with more affordable health care options.

We are also very interested in hearing more about the department’s regulatory and enforcement agenda. This committee spent the early part of this year advancing resolutions under the Congressional Review Act to clean up the mess from the Obama administration and deliver regulatory relief for hardworking men and women.

In fact, five out of fourteen of the CRA resolutions that were signed into law originated from this committee. And just last week, the House passed the Save Local Business Act to roll back the Obama-era joint employer scheme that threatens 1.7 million jobs, according to the American Action Forum.

We know the department has its work cut out after eight years of an unprecedented regulatory rampage. But we look forward to building on the progress we’ve made together so we can get government out of the way and unleash prosperity and opportunity.

There are also a number of issues impacting retirement security that deserve our attention. This includes the need to protect access to affordable retirement advice and empower more Americans to plan for the future.

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