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U.S. Dept. of Labor uses backchannel to circumvent LePage

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AUGUSTA – Governor Paul R. LePage revealed today that the U.S. Department of Labor has been interfering in the restructuring of the state’s workforce investment system to better meet the needs of Maine’s people. Evidence has surfaced of inappropriate backchannel communication between U.S. DOL and the local workforce investment boards, revealing the overreach of the federal government into state decision making.

In a letter to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis signed by Governor LePage on Friday, the Governor condemns recent actions of that agency. The actions of concern relate to the state’s efforts to reinvigorate its workforce development system and have raised questions about the integrity of the federal government’s oversight processes.

“I recently reviewed a copy of a letter from your Assistant Secretary Jane Oates addressed to me dated November 16, 2012,” Governor LePage wrote. “Unfortunately, that letter came to me from the Maine Commissioner of Labor, who received it second-hand from the Executive Director of a Local Workforce Investment Board. To date, I have not received this letter through official or unofficial channels between my office and yours and, in fact, Ms. Oates’ letter falsely assumes Maine’s course of action. I have enclosed this letter for your reference and investigation.”

The State Workforce Investment Board (SWIB) has worked hard over the past year to make recommendations that reduce administrative costs and allocate more funds directly into training Maine citizens for in-demand jobs.

“It appears to me that either a significant error was made or your Department is seeking to subvert the policy decisions of the State of Maine by working through back channels with Local Workforce Investment Boards. I sincerely hope it is not the case that this was direct subversion – the states maintain a strong, independent, and important role in our Federal system,” noted Governor LePage in the letter.

“The U.S. DOL has, at best, been disingenuous and, at worst, collaborated to conspire against the best interests of the people of Maine,” he said today.

The new configuration of the State Workforce Investment Board provides the state with more authority to set policy and steer the workforce system in a direction that not only increases the amount of money going directly to training but also creates industry partnerships that engage business input directly into the development system and utilizes the Chambers of Commerce to assist in convening and facilitating meetings to engage businesses. The SWIB’s goal is to create a more inclusive, effective and efficient workforce development system.

The SWIB has the authority to set policy, measurements and accountability practices that will ensure taxpayer dollars are not wasted on frivolous administrative costs and bureaucracy.

“The old structure reeked of conflict of interest. The U.S. DOL and the local workforce investment boards have vested, although different, interests in maintaining the status quo to the extent possible. It is now obvious that they have been working together to deny the people of Maine the accountability they deserve and the flexibility we need to maximize job training dollars,” the Governor stated Friday.

The Governor and the State Workforce Investment Board remain committed to improving the state’s workforce development system.

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson the editor of The Maine Wire. A native of Dexter, Maine, Robinson is a graduate of Bowdoin College.

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