Today's hearing marks the first Congressional glimpse at the recently enacted Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA). More importantly, today is the first day that approved states may begin administering their newly designed workforce investment systems. WIA is one of the most significant, yet under-reported, bipartisan achievements of the 105th Congress. This issue may not be as popular as managed care reform, but as Chairman of this Subcommittee, I want to assure our nation's workers that we intend to keep a close eye on this important issue. I believe that this hearing is a step toward doing just that.
This new law is the first major overhaul of our nation's training programs in over 15 years. Most folks won't want to hear me say this, but our nation's unemployment rates will not always be as low as 4.4 percent. We should not downplay the significance of this new law, nor its importance to the thousands of workers who need its services every day. If you look hard enough, you will still find problems. Wyoming's unemployment rate, for example, is one percent higher than the national average. More troubling is that Wyoming's Fremont County recently posted an unemployment rate of 9.4 percent. If that was nationwide, people would be paying more attention to this new law.
I had the honor of serving on the WIA Conference Committee last year. My understanding of this issue, however, began before the bill's deliberations. While campaigning for the Senate, parents regularly told me that they didn't want to see their kids grow up, because they knew they would eventually leave Wyoming. The reality is that other states offer more jobs that fit the type of training offered under the old Job Training and Partnership Act. It was clear to me that our nation's job training system was fragmented and didn't give states and localities the flexibility they needed to help their own, unique workforce.
Flexibility was what Congress had in mind when it passed WIA last July. Components of this law include a one-stop service delivery, individual training accounts, enhanced youth programs, universal access to core services, a stronger role for local boards and the business community, and greater state and local flexibility. These points were taken right out of the Department of Labor's Interim Final Rule. I want to commend the Department of Labor. Overall, I am impressed with how well this publication reads.
Like any public document, however, there are areas in the Department's Interim Final Rule that I will seek additional clarification. For instance, I would like to see the Department's request for technical legislation concerning individuals receiving unemployment compensation while in training. The Department should clarify its notion of a local board's authority to determine its size and customer preferences. Moreover, the Department should clearly state its position on substituting free school lunch eligibility for income eligibility under WIA, rather than "buck it" to Congress. A number of these issues may require technical legislation. In doing so, however, I will insist that we have a clear position from the Department of Labor on each and every legislative recommendation it makes to Congress as it is instructed to do under WIA. These may be minor concerns to some, but they are important to a local administrator who is determining what is specifically required of them under this law.
In addition to testimony heard today from Senator DeWine and Assistant Secretary Bramucci, the Subcommittee will also listen to the thoughts, suggestions and concerns of states, local youth training programs, and employers. Each are equally impacted by the new law and I am eager to hear their testimony. Although focused primarily on Title I of WIA, it is my hope that the Subcommittee's first hearing and witnesses will help pour a strong foundation for supporting our nation's new job training system.
I want to again applaud the bipartisan effort it took to launch our nation's new job delivery system. This process involved the Departments of Labor and Education, state and local governments, employers, labor organizations, educators and community based organizations. It is a fine example of teamwork and I would like to see it applied more frequently to legislative matters before this Subcommittee.