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Statement of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) At the HELP Committee Hearing: “Hearing on the Nominations of Christopher P. Lu for Deputy Secretary of Labor and Portia Y. Wu for Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training”

*As Prepared for Delivery*

“The nominations that we are here to discuss are critically important, both for the Department of Labor and for the countless working families across the country who depend on the programs, services, and protections provided by the Department. 

“As I have said on more than one occasion, of all the Executive Agencies, it may be the Department of Labor (DOL) that touches the lives of ordinary working Americans the most on a day-to-day basis.  The Department of Labor ensures that every American receives a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work, and can come home from work safely each night.  It helps ensure that a working mother can stay home to bond with her newborn child and still have a job to return to.  It helps workers who have been laid off, veterans returning from military service, young people with disabilities entering the workforce and those who develop disabilities trying to reenter the workforce build new skills and better opportunities for the future.  And it helps guarantee that hardworking people who have saved all their lives for retirement can enjoy their golden years with security and peace of mind. 

“It has been a pleasure to see this critical agency revitalized under the Obama Administration after years of neglect.  Enforcement statistics are improving.  More workers are getting better training so they can find better jobs. Employee morale at the agency is improving.  In short, the Department of Labor is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, and doing it well.  And they know what they are doing is working.  The Government Accountability Office recently conducted a survey of 24 executive branch departments and agencies about their use of evidence-based, data-driven decisionmaking – basically trying to determine if agencies have good, evidence-based ways to measure their progress.  The Labor Department was first among all 24 federal agencies that were part of the survey.  I think it’s safe to say that wouldn’t have been the case just a few short years ago.  It is a testament to the hard work of the dedicated career staff of the agency and its strong leadership team that they have come so far so fast.

“It is the job of the nominees before us today to build on that record of success.  The issues that are facing the Department are front and center in our national dialogue right now.  As our country continues to move down the road to economic recovery, the Department of Labor will play a vital role in determining what kind of recovery we have—a recovery that benefits only a select few, or a recovery that rebuilds a strong American middle class, where everyone who works hard and plays by the rules can build a better life.

“As the official responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Department, the Deputy Secretary of Labor will play a key role in helping the Department meet these challenges.  Our outgoing Deputy Secretary, Seth Harris, built a strong record of accomplishment in this position, and I know that our nominee, Chris Lu, will carry that tradition forward.  As the former Assistant to the President and Secretary to the Cabinet, Chris brings a unique knowledge of the inner-workings of the Administration to this position.  He knows how agencies run, and how they can work together to produce the best possible results for the American people.  In addition, as a longtime Congressional staffer, I know Chris has a deep knowledge of Congress and how to effectively work with lawmakers that will also be an asset to the Department.  I look forward to hearing more from Chris about his vision for moving the Department forward and how he will use these unique skills to further improve its efficiency and effectiveness.

“As the recovery progresses, putting people back to work in good jobs and engaging more of those who have not been in the workforce, such as those with disabilities, will remain priority number one for the Department.  And the Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training will be the point person in this effort.  The Employment and Training Administration is an agency within DOL that has had some real accomplishments in recent years, but it has also faced some real management challenges. 

“From 2012 to 2013, programs administered by the Employment and Training Administration served 32 million people across unemployment, employment, and job training programs.  Last year, the percentage of workers exiting Department of Labor job training programs receiving industry-recognized credentials – the kind of credentials that can lead to good jobs with good wages – was the highest in the Department’s history.  That is a success that should be applauded.  But we also saw the fallout of unprecedented mismanagement of one of our most critical training programs – Job Corps.  That mismanagement was a tremendous concern to the many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that care about the Job Corps program, and we are closely following the Department’s efforts to right the ship.

“Fortunately, President Obama has chosen a strong leader to spearhead this effort.  Portia Wu is unquestionably a policy expert in these areas, and she has a deep knowledge of the agency, the Administration, and Capitol Hill.  I have every confidence that – working with the dedicated and talented career staff in the Employment and Training Administration – she will bring renewed accountability and real progress to ETA. 

“I look forward to seeing all that these two talented nominees can accomplish, and to seeing the Department of Labor make even further progress in the remainder of the Obama administration.  I thank Portia and Chris for their willingness to serve, and look forward to today’s discussion.”