Downsizing the DOL

As many expected, the Department of Labor didn’t escape President Trump’s 62-page budget plan (released yesterday) unscathed. But the extent of the proposed cutbacks should certainly raise a few eyebrows.

On a percentage basis, the DOL tied the Agriculture Department for third place on the list of agencies being targeted for biggest cutbacks (with a 21-percent decrease), just behind the Environmental Protection Agency (31.4-percent decrease) and the State Department (28-percent decrease).

From a dollar standpoint, under the plan, the proposed DOL budget would be slashed by $2.5 billion—to $9.6 billion.

So how will the DOL find these savings?

The budget plan points to areas such as job-training grants, Bureau of International Labor Affairs’ grant funding, the closing of Job Corps centers, the elimination of less-critical technical-assistance grants from the Office of Disability Employment Policy, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s training grants. In many of the cases, the administration’s hope is to shift more of the burden onto the shoulders of the states.

But as Washington-based Seyfarth Shaw Senior Counsel Larry Lorber pointed out yesterday in a phone interview, the cited cuts (some with dollar figures attached to them, others without) won’t get the DOL close to its $2.5 billion goal.

“There’s a big gap between the cutbacks announced and $2.5 billion,” Lorber said. “So the big question is, where are you going to make up the difference?”

Lorber said it’s ultimately going to have to come from salaries and expenses. He specifically pointed to the Wage and Hour Division and OSHA as possible candidates, since salaries and expenses make up a substantial part of their overall budgets.

So what does this all mean for employers?

Well, for starters, Lorber said, staff and travel cutbacks at entities such as WHD and OSHA are inevitably going to translate into less enforcement. Many employers, he suggested, may very well welcome the fact that if travel is reduced, enforcement isn’t going to happen.

But, he added, some employers aren’t going to be pleased to see many of the training programs and grants go away, as is being proposed. (The plan specifically proposes the elimination of the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which transitions low-income unemployed seniors into unsubsidized jobs—calling the program “ineffective.”) Lorber said it’s not likely that states are going to pick up the slack here.

Things, of course, can certainly change between now and when a more detailed budget makes its way through Congress. But it’s probably safe to expect that R. Alexander Acosta — assuming he is confirmed as Secretary of Labor — is going to have a fairly downsized department to work with as performs his duties. (Acosta’s confirmation hearings are now scheduled to begin on March 22.)