By Craig Sandler, Public Citizen
Recently, the White House released a plan to merge the Department of Education (DoE) and the Department of Labor (DoL) into a single agency: the Department of Education and Workforce. This proposal is a component of the White House’s plan restructure the federal government in order to, in the words of Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, “make government lean, accountable, and more efficient.” Like many of this administration’s initiatives, the proposal carries with it some deeply troubling implications.
For one, the proposal would seek to reduce the size of both departments’ staff. This reveals the administration’s contempt for both the children and workers of America. It appears that the massive cutbacks at the DoE, and the shifting of that agency’s focus away from enforcement of civil rights and disability rights laws that have already occurred under Secretary Betsy DeVos are not enough of a dismantling for this administration’s nihilistic tastes. Similarly, the DoL’s enforcement of worker rights and safety standards are apparently disposable to the administration.
Since the beginning of Trump’s presidency, the Labor and Education Departments have been on the administration’s hit list. Trump’s budget proposals aim to make steep cuts to both of these agencies; the administration has targeted both agencies with hiring freezes; and reckless deregulation has meant cutbacks in the agencies’ protections of students against predatory and abusive practices in higher education, protections for workers’ health, safety, and pay and much more.
Since taking office, the administration has demonstrated an outright zeal in cutting back government services and protections wherever possible in the name of an extremist ideology that aims to shrink and dismantle government without regard to consequences. As part of the most corporate-friendly White House in history, President Trump’s Cabinet secretaries have routinely treated the American people as collateral in an attempt to enrich big corporations. For two vulnerable populations, children and workers, to be treated as grist for the corporate mill is particularly disturbing.
The plan is considered likely to go nowhere in Congress, but even if it is indeed DOA, the White House has made its priorities plainly clear by releasing it. And the plan is deliberately vague on some of the most important details of such a merger, foremost among them: what gets cut? If the past is anything to go by, we can extrapolate from the trend and assume that the first things to go would be more protections for children and workers that the administration has not already been able to gut. Would these be protections for students with disabilities against discrimination? Would they be rules forcing employers to pay overtime? The possibilities are sickening.
The “official” reasoning of the administration for the merger into the ‘Department of Education and Workforce’ is ostensibly that it views education as being primarily for the purpose of job training. But the administration’s own actions show that this cannot be their true rationale: it has repeatedly tried to slash vital workplace education and job training programs. What’s much more likely is that this is simply another excuse to cut back on staff at the agencies and on the safeguards they enforce.
We should stand up and demand that the administration stop disregarding the lives of American children and workers. We should be loud and clear that we won’t accept the dismantling of our rights without a fight. Americans must remain united against an administration that would sell us out for corporate cronies who want free rein to abuse us.