New GAO Report Discusses WIOA’s Impact on Job Training Data

Jenna Leventoff
March 9, 2016

This week, the Government Accountability Office released a legislatively mandated report about the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act’s (WIOA) impact on job training data. In part, the report discusses what changes states plan to make to implement WIOA and the challenges they are facing. The report profiles three states (Illinois, New Hampshire, and Texas), which have experienced varying levels of success with data sharing.

Under WIOA, all the major programs (i.e. Title I, Wagner-Peyser Employment Services, adult education, and vocational rehabilitation) are held to the same performance indicators: employment after program exit, median earnings, credential attainment, measureable skills gains, and effectively serving employers. In addition, WIOA requires states to use wage records, in accordance with state law, to measure program performance. This is a change from the previous law, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), where indicators varied across programs and the use of wage records was not required for Adult Education and Vocational Rehabilitation (VR).

The Department of Labor (DOL) and the Department of Education (ED) plan to issue final regulations defining the terms in the common metrics in June 2016. While DOL is providing informal guidance to states in the absence of final regulation, ED has told states that it can’t answer questions related to the ongoing rulemaking, according to GAO. Without these regulations and related guidance, some states are struggling with early implementation while others are intentionally avoiding it. Those states want to prevent investing resources into early implementation efforts that may not be compliant with the final regulations. Additionally, some states worry that they may not be able to comply by July 2016, the time WIOA requires states to start using the common measures, and just one month after the anticipated release of the final regulations.

Nevertheless, states are beginning to think about the potential changes they will be required to make under WIOA. A summary of potential changes and related challenges is below:

·  Data System Integration: Although WIOA encourages integration of program data systems, only Texas is in the process of integration. Illinois has yet to determine an approach. State officials in New Hampshire believe that implementing a new integrated system may be cost prohibitive, and may explore automated data sharing between programs, instead of integration. More generally, the report cites inadequate IT-staff capacity, antiquated systems, and undeveloped or difficult cross-agency relationships as challenges to system integration. The President’s 2017 budget has requested increased funding for Workforce Data Quality Initiative Grants to help fund these new integrated systems.

·  New Data Collection: WIOA will require ED-administered programs to report more new data than DOL-administered programs. DOL-administered programs already report most of the data required by the new core indicators, including employment and earnings information. However, these indicators are totally new to some ED programs. Adult Education programs didn’t have to report median earnings under WIA. While VR did report employment and earnings information, WIOA will require the program to tracker longer-term outcomes. These changes will require many ED-administered programs to find ways to collect employment and earnings data. Illinois and Texas plan to use their access to unemployment insurance records for federal reporting of median incomes. However, New Hampshire, whose state law prohibits the collection of Social Security Numbers needed to match participant data, won’t be able to. Instead, New Hampshire’s VR agency is considering adding a question about earnings to its participant survey. A final metric, new to all programs, is the employer service metric. Illinois and New Hampshire both plan to coordinate outreach and interaction with employers across their programs.

·  Integrating New Data Fields into Data Systems: Some of the states use contractors to build their systems – and these states will likely rely on the contractors to change the systems to accord with the new data elements mandated by WIOA. Other states do it in-house, and will be solely responsible for the changes. The states seem to doubt their ability to complete these changes by the deadline, according to GAO. Texas VR officials said that in the past, it took about two years to implement major changes to performance reporting. New Hampshire VR will be implementing changes though this summer.

In addition, the report discussed breaches of program data systems. According to the report, none of the three states had any outside data breaches. However, the states are developing innovative security measures to protect personal information. For example, Texas has an electronic flag that warns employees if their e-mails contain confidential information so it can be removed before sending. New Hampshire regularly scans data servers for vulnerabilities.  

For more information on WIOA guidance, see the National Skills Coalition’s “Skills Blog.” Also see WDQC’s infographic “How WIOA Data Works.”