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White House proposes merging Labor, Education departments

President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting at the White House on Thursday.

The White House announced a plan Thursday to combine the Department of Labor and Department of Education into the Department of Education and the Workforce. The proposal is part of a larger effort to make the federal government "more efficient, effective and accountable."

The Labor Department and Education Department share a common goal of preparing Americans for success but do so in "separate silos," a White House report said. The proposal would merge all of the existing DOL and Education Department programs into a single department with four main subagencies focused on K-12, higher education/workforce development, enforcement and research/evaluation/administration.

The enforcement agency would include worker protection agencies from the Labor Department that are responsible for enforcing statutes related to workers' pay, safety, benefits and other protections, as well as federal workers' compensation programs, according to the White House report.

Under the proposal, the Employee Benefits Security Administration would be part of the Department of Education and the Workforce's enforcement subagency. Michael P. Kreps, principal at Groom Law Group, said if the agencies are combined it's unlikely to have a big impact on EBSA. When ERISA was created, employees from the IRS simply moved to DOL, he said, adding, "I would think it would be the same idea here."

"Because Congress wouldn't be changing the fundamental mission of the Department of Labor with respect to ERISA, that seems like … there's probably not a huge impact on EBSA," Mr. Kreps said, "other than changing (the) letter head."

The combined department would need congressional approval. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-North Carolina, chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said in a statement that she endorsed the idea, adding, "The federal government is long overdue for a serious overhaul. The proposed Department of Education and the Workforce is recognition of the clear relationship between education policy at every level and the needs of the growing American workforce."

Ranking Member Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, had a different view. "The Department of Labor is no more equipped to oversee elementary education policy than the Department of Education is prepared to enforce standards for coal mine safety," Mr. Scott said in a separate statement. "The logic behind this proposal is painfully thin."

Last year, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing the Office of Management and Budget to work on a comprehensive plan to reorganize the executive branch.

The proposal would also reorganize the Office of Personnel Management by moving its policy function into the Executive Office of the President. OPM oversees the federal pension systems — the Federal Employees Retirement System and the Civil Service Retirement System, both based in Washington.