To Navigate $12M Sequester, BLS Cuts Green Jobs
In a triumph of common sense, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is responding to the sequester by eliminating its count of green jobs, an $8 million annual waste of taxpayer funds.
BLS press spokesman Gary Steinberg told me, "Permanent across-the-board cuts generally do not work for the BLS, as this approach jeopardizes the quality of all BLS data. Instead, the BLS strategic approach is to reduce or eliminate selected product lines or programs, rather than reduce the quality of all programs by spreading the cut equally."
In addition, BLS is ending its comparisons of international statistics (savings: $2 million), and its count of mass layoffs (savings: $1.7 million). The three programs scheduled for elimination cost $12 million, 2 percent of BLS's $613 million budget.
More government agencies should use the BLS approach of setting priorities rather than using across-the-board cuts. Mr. Steinberg explained that while the programs targeted for elimination produce important information, the data from BLS's principal federal economic indicators, such as the employment situation and the inflation indices, are more critical for monitoring and understanding trends in the U.S. economy.
There is no reason for BLS to collect data on firms' layoffs. Data are widely available in the press, few users access them, and their elimination has been suggested for over five years. Data on international comparisons are published by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, and their elimination was proposed in the fiscal year 2011 budget.
The most egregious misuse of taxpayer funds is the green jobs survey, issued for the first time last March.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is responsible for the federal definition of green jobs under Title X of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed into law by President George W. Bush. Title X was originally a stand-alone bill, the Green Jobs Act, sponsored by then-Representative Hilda Solis, a California Democrat. Solis became Secretary of Labor in 2009, and was charged with implementing her legislation.
Ms. Solis resigned in January. Perhaps that is why BLS is discontinuing the survey.
In his 2008 campaign, President Obama called for the creation of 5 million green jobs over the next decade. His administration then proceeded to give out grants and guaranteed loans for green energy projects to try to make his dream into reality.
Last year BLS tallied 3.1 million green jobs in the U.S. economy. When people hear of green jobs, they think workers are making wind and solar power, and electric cars and batteries. But most were jobs that had always existed, but were colored green for the purpose of the BLS survey.
For instance, BLS counts plumbers who install "Lo-Flo" toilets as having green jobs, but not plumbers who put in regular fixtures.
Farmers who grow corn for ethanol have green jobs, so do farmers who grow both corn for ethanol and corn for people or animals to eat. But if the farmer grows corn only for eating (either by people or animals), that farmer doesn't have a green job.
A green job must meet one of five BLS definitions, including "environmental compliance, education, training and public awareness." As I write this column, my job is counted as green, but if I were writing about Chairman Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve's excess production of greenbacks, my job would not be green.
Similarly, those who manufacture paper cups with environmental logos are counted by BLS as having green jobs, but if the cups did not have such a message, the jobs would not be green.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided the Labor Department with $500 million for grants in research and training for green jobs. The funds were awarded to state workforce agencies, community colleges, and nonprofits.
They were used to train workers in green industries such as hybrid- and electric-car auto mechanics, weatherization of buildings, and solar panel installation.
However, the grants have a low success rate, concluded the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Labor in a report on the $500 million program, published in October.
Assistant Inspector General Elliot Lewis wrote that 113,000 people had participated in the green jobs training programs, and $329 million had been spent, by June 30, 2012. Of these participants, 72 percent had completed training; 27 percent of participants entered a new job; 22 percent of participants got a job relating to their training; and 10 percent kept their new jobs for at least six months. However, six months had not yet elapsed for all participants who had entered new jobs.
That's a cost of about $28,000 for each job retained for six months or more.
A report last month by the Gregory Friedman, Inspector General of the Energy Department, found here, describes the misuse of a $150 million grant awarded to LG Chem, a South Korean-owned battery manufacturer in Holland, Michigan. LG Chem was supposed to create 440 jobs and make enough batteries to run 60,000 electric cars by December 2013.
According to Mr. Friedman, "we confirmed that employees spent time volunteering at local non-profit organizations, playing games and watching movies during regular working hours." LG Chem, meanwhile, filled U.S. demand with batteries made in South Korea. That's money from Uncle Sam for green jobs in Asia.
The Pentagon should learn from BLS and eliminate its $510 million, three-year program to develop new biofuels for ships and tanks. These biofuels cost $27 per gallon, rather than $3.80 per gallon for conventional fuel. With the Pentagon facing a $43 billion sequester this year, in addition to previous cuts of $260 billion over five years, this is not the time for a $510 million experimental program.
Mr. Obama has repeatedly told the public, most recently in his State of the Union Address, that renewable energy will create "tens of thousands of good, American jobs." And that the federal government must invest in renewable energy to make them exist.
Yet Labor Department data show that relatively few green trained workers got jobs in renewable electric power (14 percent), the manufacture of sustainable products (5 percent), energy efficiency assessment (8 percent), energy efficient vehicles (1 percent), deconstruction and materials use (2 percent), or biofuels (1 percent).
February's jobs numbers will be released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday. No one except Mr. Obama will care whether the new jobs are green. Kudos to BLS for cutting the green survey.