• The Great (Re)Training Robbery

    October 3, 2014 // 5 Comments »




    Barack Obama told Americans every worker deserves to know “if you lose your job, your country will help you train for an even better one.” A nice sentiment,and politically safe; it’s just the wrong answer. Those “better jobs” don’t exist, and training doesn’t create jobs. Despite all that, every year the U.S. government spends billions of dollars on job training, with little impact. What’s the right answer?

    In 2007 then-candidate Obama visited Janesville, Wisconsin, location of the oldest General Motors plant in America. Echoing his current promise to support unemployed Americans with job training, Obama proclaimed “I believe that, if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another hundred years.” However, two days before Christmas and just about a month before Obama’s inauguration, the plant closed forever, throwing 5,000 people out of work. This devastated the town, because most residents either worked in the plant or in a business that depended on people working in the plant. Congress paid for a $2 million retraining program, using state community colleges the way the government once used trade schools, a century ago, to teach new immigrants the skills they needed to work at GM.

    This time around, however, those who finished their retraining programs for the most part simply became trained unemployed people, rather than untrained ones. Having a certificate in “heating and ventilation” or training in new welding techniques did not automatically lead to a job in those fields. There were already plenty of people out there with such certificates, never mind actual college degrees (the United States graduated 1,606,000 students with bachelor’s degrees in 2014.) Of those that completed some form of training, nearly 40 percent did not find work. And those in Janesville who did find work in some field saw their take-home pay drop by 36 percent. A look at Craigslist job ads for the town shows one ad for heating and ventilation work, with a demand for three years experience. Under “General Labor” the work is for janitors, newspaper delivery and things like light manufacturing at $8.50 an hour.

    Obama’s calls for job training also belies the fact that the government already spends approximately $18 billion a year to administer 47 job training programs. The actual value of those programs remains unclear. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that only five programs assessed whether people who found jobs did so because of the program and not some other cause. In addition, the GAO learned that almost all training programs overlap with at least one other training program. “Federal job training sounds like something that should boost the economy,” writes the Cato Institute, “but five decades of experience indicate otherwise.”

    The panacea myth of job training crosses party lines. The GAO reported that in 2003, under the George W. Bush administration, the government spent $13 billion on training, spread across 44 programs. Job training may again be on the GOP agenda, even if the parties differ on the details. Politically, some sort of job training just sounds good. The problem is that it won’t really help America’s 10.5 million unemployed.

    So the $18 billion question is: if training is not the answer, what is?

    Jobs. Jobs that pay a living wage. The 2008 recession wiped out primarily high and middle wage jobs, with the strongest employment growth in the recovery taking place in low wage employment, to the point where the United States has the highest number of workers in low wage jobs of all industrialized nations.

    There are many possible paths to better-paying jobs in America whose spending power can spark a “virtuous cycle.” That would mean more employment leading to more spending and more demand, followed by more hiring. One kickstarter is simply higher wages in the jobs we do have. For example, recent Department of Labor studies show that the 13 states which raised their minimum wages added jobs (at higher wages of course) at a faster pace than those that did not. On a larger, albeit more contentious scale, are options such as a WPA-like program, changes to tax and import laws to promote domestic manufacturing, infrastructure grants and the like. There’s $18 billion to work with for a start.

    No matter the path forward, the bottom line remains unchanged: Training does not create jobs. Jobs create the need for training. Anything else is just politics.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in #99Percent, Economy, Minimum Wage

    Holder and Mueller Spent $7.8 Million Taxpayer Dollars on Personal Travel

    April 17, 2014 // 7 Comments »




    With income tax season in the U.S. in full swing, all thoughts turn to cheating.

    It has been said that perhaps some Americans are not fully honest on their tax reporting. Some may “forget” to report cash payments here and there, and more than a few will likely exaggerate business and other expenses to score a deduction. It’s a kind of tradition, one that lessens how much tax money the government gets from us Citizens.


    Payback

    So I guess in that context Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice Eric Holder, and former FBI Director Robert Mueller taking advantage of a loophole to not report lots of personal travel at taxpayer expense is just some payback on all you cheaters.

    The Government Accounting Office (GAO) works directly for the Congress. In a recent report to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the GAO reminds that federal agencies are usually required to report trips taken by senior officials on government aircraft unless the trips are classified. The point of this reporting is to make sure officials are not using taxpayer money to fly government planes for personal travel (“non-mission purposes.”)

    Exemptions

    But wouldn’t you know it, the General Services Administration, the executive branch’s kind of one-stop administrative and office manager, created a handy reporting exemption that covers intelligence agencies, even in cases of unclassified personal travel. A CIA official, even if using a government airplane to visit her son at college, would not have to report that misuse to the supposed watchdog agency because of that exemption. The exemption as written by the executive branch never defined what constitutes an “intelligence agency” for this purpose.

    The GAO learned that Holder and Mueller decided on their own, again without oversight, that the intelligence agency exemption also applied to them. They never reported their personal use of government aircraft. GAO investigators, however, pried loose enough information to show Holder, Mueller and other Justice Department executives took 395 unclassified, non-mission flights between fiscal years 2009 and 2010, at a cost to taxpayers $7.8 million. Maybe that’s chump change dollar-wise in the overall flood of government waste and fraud, but it certainly does not set a good example when two of the nation’s top law enforcement officials cheat over chump change.

    Worse yet, the GAO found Holder’s use of FBI aircraft, which are supposed to be reserved for the agency’s own operations, could hinder the agency’s operations. Since the FBI always has to have a plane on standby for emergency purposes, the agency has had to lease another aircraft while theirs was being used to ferry Justice Department officials.

    It’s OK

    Anyway, after having been caught red-handed abetting stealing from the public trough, the General Services Administration promised to eliminate the intelligence exemption applying to non-mission, unclassified travel sometime soon. The Department of Justice made no comments on the matter.

    BONUS: Secretary of State John F. Kerry, headed to the Ukraine for some effective diplomacy in early March, had his government aircraft detour on his way, stopping in New York so he could meet his just-born granddaughter. State Department officials later characterized the detour as a “refueling stop.” It is unclear what State Department officials called the taxpayer motorcade from the airport to the hospital as.

    BONUS BONUS: Senior executives at the Internal Revenue Service were spending hundreds of thousands of tax dollars commuting to Washington from their homes across the country, instead of living in D.C. Many then skirted the law by not paying income tax on their hefty travel reimbursements, as ordinary Americans are required to do. An IRS source told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the most frequent travelers were officials who work in Washington but live in Dallas, Minneapolis and Atlanta, and have been flying to work on the taxpayers’ dime for years.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in #99Percent, Economy, Minimum Wage

    State Department: America’s Increasingly Irrelevant Concierge

    July 18, 2012 // 10 Comments »




    A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released July 16 shows that overall more than one fourth of all State Department Foreign Service positions are either unfilled or are filled with below-grade employees. What should be staggering news pointing out a crisis in government is in fact barely worth a media mention in that State’s lack of personnel is silently tracking its increasing irrelevance to the United States, sliding into the role of America’s Concierge abroad.

    Numbers are Much Worse Than at First Glance

    In fact, broken down, it is much worse. At the senior levels, the alleged leaders of America’s diplomacy, the number is 36 percent vacant or filled with “stretch” assignments, people of lower rank and experience pressed into service. At the crucial midranks, the number is 26 percent. Entry level jobs are at 28 percent, though it is unclear how some of those can be filled with stretch assignments since they are already at the bottom.

    In fact though, it is much worse. Within State’s Foreign Service ranks, there exists the Consular Bureau and everyone else. Consular stands quite separate from the other Foreign Service Officers in that Consular employees have very specific worker bee jobs processing passports and visas and are not involved in the “traditional” diplomatic tasks we know and love such as maintaining inter-government relations, writing reports, negotiating treaties, rebuilding Afghanistan and all that. Many of these jobs are filled because they have to be, cash cow that issuing visas is for increasingly foreign tourism dependent third world America. That means broken down by function, it is likely that there are even larger gaps in vacancies in traditional diplomatic roles than even the sad percentages suggest.

    These vacancies and stretches at State are largely unchanged from the last time the GAO checked in 2008. GAO says in its report that “Although the State Department is attempting to compensate by hiring retirees and placing current civil service employees in Foreign Service jobs, it ‘lacks a strategy to fill those gaps.’”

    (State has 10,490 Civil Service employees and was only able to convert four employees to the Foreign Service. That’s a 0.03813 percent conversion rate to help bridge the gap, so much for that idea. Want another perspective? Here’s why some Civil Servants might pass on the chance to become FSOs.).

    In response to GAO, State said it agreed that its workforce planning should be updated to include a strategy to address staffing gaps and a plan to evaluate the strategy.

    So What?

    State’s somnolent response to what should be a crisis call (anyone wish to speculate on what the response might be to a report that the military is understaffed by 36 percent at the senior levels?) tells the tale. It really doesn’t matter, and even State itself knows.

    What vibrant it-really-matters institution could persist with staffing gaps over time as gaping as State’s? Seriously friends, if your organization can continue to mumble along with over one out of four slots un/underfilled, that kinda shows that you don’t matter much.

    And such is now the case with the US Department of State.

    The Militarization of Foreign Policy
    The most obvious sign of State’s irrelevance is the militarization of foreign policy. There really are more military band members than State Department Foreign Service Officers. The whole of the Foreign Service is smaller than the complement aboard one aircraft carrier. Despite the role that foreign affairs has always played in America’s drunken intercourse abroad, the State Department remains a very small part of the pageant. The Transportation Security Administration has about 58,000 employees; the State Department has about 22,000. The Department of Defense (DOD) has nearly 450,000 employees stationed overseas, with 2.5 million more in the US.

    At the same time, Congress continues to hack away at State’s budget. The most recent round of bloodletting saw State lose some $8 billion while DOD gained another $5 billion. The found fiver at DOD will hardly be noticed in their overall budget of $671 billion. The $8 billion loss from State’s total of $47 billion will further cripple the organization. The pattern is familiar and has dogged State-DOD throughout the war of terror years. No more taxi vouchers and office supplies for you! What you do get for your money is the militarization of foreign policy.

    As Stephen Glain wrote in his book, State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire, the combatant commands are already the putative epicenters for security, diplomatic, humanitarian and commercial affairs in their regions. Local leaders receive them as powerful heads of state, with motorcades, honor guards and ceremonial feats. Their radiance obscures everything in its midst, including the authority of US ambassadors.

    Glain’s point is worth quoting at length:

    This yawning asymmetry is fueled by more than budgets and resources [though the Pentagon-State spending ration is 12:1], however. Unlike ambassadors, whose responsibility is confined to a single country or city-state, the writ of a combatant commander is hemispheric in scope. His authority covers some of the world’s most strategic resources and waterways and he has some of the most talented people in the federal government working for him.

    While his civilian counterpart is mired in such parochial concerns as bilateral trade disputes and visa matters, a combatant commander’s horizon is unlimited. “When we spoke, we had more clout,” according to Anthony Zinni. “There’s a mismatch in our stature. Ambassadors don’t have regional perspectives. You see the interdependence and interaction in the region when you have regional responsibility. If you’re in a given country, you don’t see beyond its borders because that is not your mission.”


    America’s Concierge Abroad

    The increasing role of the military in America’s foreign relations sidelines State. The most likely American for a foreigner to encounter in most parts of the world now, for better or worse, carries a weapon and drives a tank.

    Among the many disclosures made in the alleged 250,000 alleged State Department alleged documents dumped on to Wikileaks was the uber revelation that most of State’s vaunted reporting on foreign events is boring, trivial and of little practical value (though well-written and punctuated properly). Apart from a few gossipy disclosures about foreign leaders and sleazy US behind-the-scenes-deals with crappy MidEast dictators, there were few dramatic KABOOMs in those cables. Even now State is struggling in the Bradley Manning trial to demonstrate that actual harm was done to national security by the disclosures.

    Lop off a quarter or so of the Foreign Service for Consular work, which hums by more or less independent of the rest of the State Department.

    That leaves for the understaffed Department of State pretty much only the role of concierge. America’s VIPs and wanna be VIPs need their hands held, their security arranged, their motorcades organized and their Congressional visits’ hotels and receptions handled, all tasks that falls squarely on the Department of State and its embassies abroad. “Supporting” CODELS (Congressional Delegations’ visits to foreign lands) is a right of passage for State Department employees, and every Foreign Service Officer has his/her war stories to tell. For me, while stationed in the UK, I escorted so many Mrs. Important Somebody’s on semi-official shopping trips that I was snarkily labeled “Ambassador to Harrod’s” by my colleagues. Others will tell tales of pre-dawn baggage handling, VIP indiscretions that needed smoothing over, and demands for this and that by so-called important people that rivaled rock star concert riders— no green M&Ms!

    Best Cappuccino in ‪Tripoli

    Take another look at the photo above, of old man McCain visiting our embassy in Libya. The cut line read “US Amb. to ‪#Libya‬ Chris Stevens – one of America’s finest diplomats also makes one of the best cappuccinos in ‪#Tripoli‬.”

    McCain meant the comment as a compliment, and looking at the ambassador’s face, he is quite pleased with himself to be serving coffee to the Senator. Can anyone imagine a similar photo from Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa showing a Marine general in a similar stance?

    No, you can’t.

    Understaffed, with roughly a quarter of its jobs unfilled and no plan to do anything about it, fits the State Department just fine. It is, sadly, a perfect example of an evolutionary process of government right-sizing, fitting the resources well to the actual job. RIP State, you rest now, it’s almost over.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in #99Percent, Economy, Minimum Wage

    Tongue-Tied State Department Failing in its Core Mission (Part II)

    July 12, 2011 // Comments Off on Tongue-Tied State Department Failing in its Core Mission (Part II)

    In addition to the obvious opportunities for waste, fraud, corruption and just plain stupidity, the real problem is how lack of language capability within the State Department contributes to the further militarization of foreign policy.

    There really are more military band members than State Department Foreign Service Officers. The whole of the Foreign Service is smaller than the complement aboard one aircraft carrier. Despite the role that foreign affairs has always played in America’s drunken intercourse abroad, the State Department remains a very small part of the pageant. At the same time, Congress continues to hack away at State’s budget. As head-count shrinks, the number of FSOs who can be pulled off the assembly line and sent to Arabic training (it takes two full-time years of study in the State Department system to have a chance at qualifying as generally professionally competent in a hard language like Arabic) the so-called “training float,” also shrinks.

    There are other, more institutional problems, as well. State insists on holding at least the first year of any language training at its campus in Arlington, VA, where students joke about learning to speak Arabic, or Dutch, or Tagalong with a Virginia accent. The Arlington location limits the pool of teachers to those who happen to live in the area, a zone rich with Homeland Security contractors snapping up good Arabic speakers for higher salaries. Officers in language training are pulled out of real contention for promotions, death in State’s up or out system and a severe disincentive. Person applying to the foreign service only get credit for foreign languages they speak after otherwise being accepted; they get little advantage in the very difficult testing and evaluation process that begins with a written test so difficult most people fail. State offers some bonus pay for language skills, but has never measured the impact of the pay incentive on increasing foreign language proficiency.

    A Congressionally-funded hiring boom between 2002-2004 that was supposed to create a “training float” was instead squandered by State in staffing the world’s largest embassy in Baghdad, as well as its smaller, twin evil sister in Kabul.

    The GAO concluded however that the worst problem is State’s bureaucracy:

    In 2002, GAO reported that State had not prepared a separate strategic plan for developing its foreign language skills or a related action plan to correct long-standing proficiency shortfalls and recommended that the Department do so.

    In 2009, seven years later, GAO wrote again that “State’s efforts to meet its foreign language requirements have yielded some results but have not closed persistent gaps and reflect, in part, a lack of a comprehensive, strategic approach.” The GAO recommended arcane techniques such as “measurable goals, objectives, milestones, and feedback mechanisms” to State.

    In a 2010 follow-up report, GAO wrote again “State has efforts underway to identify foreign language needs and capabilities, but persistent shortfalls in foreign language-proficient staff highlight the need for a comprehensive, strategic approach.”

    They are really stubborn people over there in Foggy Bottom.

    In economic terms, State’s comparative advantage has always been that we could talk to foreigners. Give that up—alongside the smaller head count, the flaccid budget—and what is left? As America continues to find new countries to invade and occupy, the chances become greater and greater that the only Americans foreigners in many Middle Eastern countries will see wear green and carry a weapon, and they’ll not be in the mood to chat.

    “We cannot effectively sway our allies or adversaries if we do not speak their language,” said Senator Daniel K. Akaka, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Oversight of Government Management Subcommittee. The tool box America uses to deal with issues abroad will shrink, as there will be fewer people around who can talk to foreigners.

    Guess we’ll just have to shoot more of ‘em.

    Read Part I of “Tongue-Tied State Department Failing in its Core Mission”



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in #99Percent, Economy, Minimum Wage

    State Still Not Prepared to Bully Iraq, Might Lose Lunch Money

    June 30, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    No matter what form of US military is left in Iraq by year’s end, the State Department takes over the mission from the Army on October 1 (don’t anticipate any parades, maybe a press release or infomercial) and will have to fend for itself in Iraq. No more US Army around to push the mean kids out of State’s way and protect their tender asses and smooth hands from reality.

    State would like to hire its own army, 5500 mercs, dropping a couple of billion in protection money so that Sadr doesn’t steal the embassy’s lunch money. Congress may or may not ante up (it looks like things are covered for part of the next FY) but the task of supervising all those bad boys and filling in the security gaps the Army will leave falls on State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, or “DS” if you’re cool in a nerdy kind of cool way.

    And of course DS is ready to step up to the plate.

    Hah hah, of course not.

    The spoilsports at the Government Accounting Office (GAO) said Wednesday that the DS nancy boys responsible for protecting US diplomats around the world are still not ready to assume all of their new security responsibilities in Iraq.

    Despite State planning to spend roughly $1.7 billion on security in Iraq this year, DS themselves “acknowledged they are not designed to assume the military’s mission in Iraq and will have to rely on its own resources and the assistance of the host country [yeah right, Iraq] to protect the US mission in the absence of the funding, personnel, equipment and protection formerly provided by the US military.”

    Among other tasks, the diplomats themselves will somehow be responsible for “downed aircraft recovery, explosives ordnance disposal, route clearance, and rocket and mortar countermeasures,” all of which they “have had little or no experience in providing.”

    The horrible death of a State contractor last week in Iraq may be a sad portent of things to come.

    Choose your Iraq assignments wisely and stay thirsty my friends.



    Related Articles:




    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedin

    Posted in #99Percent, Economy, Minimum Wage

IP Blocking Protection is enabled by IP Address Blocker from LionScripts.com.