WASHINGTON – Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) continued to turn up the heat on questionable green jobs estimates from the Department of Labor in a hearing Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee.
Issa also sought to examine what he described as the Department of Labor ‘reaching’ into the Bureau of Labor and Statistics with new media regulations that govern the dissemination of critical labor statistics that have immense and immediate impacts on the overall economy.
His opening shot, however, took aim at a green jobs agenda that has prompted President Barack Obama and his Department of Labor to reclassify preexisting jobs as green jobs in order to meet benchmarks touted by the administration that have yet to meet expectations.
“You’ll recall, the DOL received $500 million in stimulus funds to train workers for so-called green skills. But an audit by the inspector general found the program to be an utter failure and represented a tremendous loss to the taxpayer,” Issa said in his opening statement. “This included training for occupations that are hardly green, such as welder, sheet metal worker, and machine operator. Certainly those are jobs that may be needed. The skills are valuable. But they’re certainly not all of a sudden green after hundreds of years of being around as a profession.”
Issa accused the department, and Obama’s media push on the subject, of stuffing the estimates with jobs that, in his opinion, hardly merited inclusion as a green job.
“[T]hey have been using the guise of green jobs to justify ongoing funding of the President’s ‘green agenda.’ However the standard that they have invented includes counting as a green job, in addition to the welder . . . college professors are now green. Environmental reporters are now green. Policy experts at any think tank can be green,” Issa continued.
“In fact, lobbyists can be green. Now I’ve been in Washington for nearly twelve years. There’s a lot of green with lobbyists, none of it should be counted as an environmentally green job,” quipped Issa.
Other statistics also raised eyebrows.
“There are 33 times as many so-called green jobs in the septic tank–and you can’t make these things up guys–septic tank and portable toilet servicing industry as there are in solar energy and utility areas.” Issa said. “More than 160,000 of these green jobs are related to school bus drivers.”
Such accounting methods strained credulity and exposed a focus on agenda and messaging not outcome, Issa concluded. “Using these tactics to manipulate the number to mislead the American people is nothing short of embarrassing and a betrayal of the standards President Obama established for his administration.”
“Transparency begins with honesty,” said Issa, likening the jobs estimates to ‘false propaganda.’
Citing the doubt cast on green jobs estimates provided by the Labor Department and BLS, Issa wondered aloud why anyone should not be concerned with the changed to the way the media will access the BLS numbers.
Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis turned down an invitation to explain the new processes to the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday.
Ranking member Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD) responded to Issa’s opening salvo, which raised questions about the integrity of the reporting on jobs numbers, and the methods employed by the Labor Department and the Bureau of Labor and Statistics to safeguard the integrity of the information both to external parties and internal manipulation.
“The Department of Labor strikes a balance between preventing the unauthorized release of key economic data and providing journalists with access to that data ahead of time so that they can prepare their stories’ context about the broader employment situation. This balance is very important,” said Cummings.
The Maryland Democrat explained that unauthorized releases might, even in a ‘few seconds,’ lead to manipulations within the market that could trigger hundreds of millions of dollars of buying and selling based upon the advanced information.
“A leak of this data could have negative consequences,” Cummings said.
In April, DOL changed some procedures mandating the use of government equipment and software to prepare the BLS jobs estimates for publication, citing alleged but unspecified breaches in reporting integrity by a pair of journalists that month.
Returning to the green jobs estimates from the DOL, Cummings cited a 2011 report from the Brookings Institute that estimated 2.7 million green jobs through 2010.
But a 2011 report from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment detailed the difficulty of ascertaining the precise number of green jobs, most commonly due to varying definitions of what actually constitutes a green job. The report acknowledged that despite its best efforts to capture a ‘snapshot’ of green jobs in Colorado, ‘most’ of the jobs included in the final tally ‘pre-date’ the green jobs era—meaning they were not created by the current administrations efforts in the sector.
Many green energy initiatives have not lived up to the promises made by a President who touted their success as a pathway out of recession. Repeatedly falling short, often by large margins both in the aggregate and in many specific cases, after spending hundreds of millions of dollars directly on renewable vehicle companies like Fisker or green jobs trainings like the one cited by Issa in his opening statement.
Even the author of the Brookings study cited by Cummings in Wednesday’s testimony called the BLS estimates from March 2012 a “useful reality check against expectations and promises that, in retrospect, now appear to have been exaggerated and unrealistic.”
Further blurring the line between bureau estimates, administration goals, and industry marketing are news reports that focus on the proposed benchmarks, rather than measuring outcomes. In some cases, green jobs stories have relied solely on the unaudited claims presented in industry press releases.
Rep. John F. Tierney (D-MA), gaveled down by Issa following his defense of the Green Jobs Act of 2007 he cosponsored that was expanded by the Obama stimulus bill, argued that conflating the training offered by the program with job creation was not appropriate.
“The Green Jobs Act . . . was not about creating jobs, it was about training people with the skills and education needed to take the jobs that were created,” Tierney said.
Companies were demanding trained green labor, particularly in Massachusetts, Tierney noted.
But it was when Tierney appeared to impugn the committee’s Republican majority and their perceived intent regarding the green jobs inquiries that drew a rebuke from Issa, the committee chair.
“I guess the only ones not interested in making sure that the green energy and energy efficiencies industries thrive are the Republican Party, because I know the emphasis the Department of Defense is putting on clean, green energy right now for a number of reasons, the safety of our troops being one . . .” Tierney said as he was cut off by Issa.
In 2004, then-President George W. Bush’s annual Economic Report of the President yielded similar questions about job classification when it appeared to recategorize fast-food positions as manufacturing jobs.
The report, which was released early that year and during a heated presidential campaign, was heavily criticized by now disgraced Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) who went on to become the 2nd half of the 2004 Kerry-Edwards Democratic presidential ticket.