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October 6, 2008    DOL Home > Newsroom > Speeches & Remarks   

Speeches by Secretary Elaine L. Chao

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Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao
Association of Government Accountants
Atlanta, Georgia
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Thank you, Sam [Mok, 2008-09 AGA National President].

As many of you know, Sam served ably as the Department of Labor's Chief Financial Officer. That's why I'm so pleased to join you as he takes the helm of your organization. Congratulations, Sam!

Let me also recognize Doug Webster, the Department of Labor's new Chief Financial Officer.

It's wonderful to be here at your annual conference!

This afternoon, I'd like to talk about how the Department of Labor is working to ensure that our workforce remains competitive in the increasingly worldwide economy. Then I'd like to mention how performance and accountability measures at the Department have yielded record results for America's workers.

Last October, the World Economic Forum released its Global Competitiveness Report for 2007-2008. And, this year, the U.S. topped the rankings as the most competitive economy in the world. And, last September 2007, the UN — through the International Labor Organization — issued a report naming America's workers the most productive of any nation.

This is positive, encouraging news. But as leaders in government, we all recognize that America does face challenges. One of them is the need for our nation's workforce to keep pace with the challenges of a new, knowledge-based economy, and one that is more global.

As one of the largest regulatory agencies in the Federal government, the Labor Department enforces over 180 workplace laws to ensure the health and safety, wages, and retirement security of America's workforce. I added competitiveness to our mission because of the urgent need to reform the way the Department operates to reflect the realities of the modern workplace.

An example of how today's workplace is different from that of decades ago is in the role information technology plays in the work done by your membership. Today, accountancy, auditing, and related occupations require knowledge of the career setting, but they also require proficiency in computers and many applications. Too often, there aren't enough workers with the right skills to obtain jobs requiring business skills and many jobs may go unfilled. And, the demand for skilled workers in accounting and auditing is only going to grow.

Over the decade 2006-16, for example, accountant and auditor employment in state and local government is projected to increase by 16 percent, or about double the 8 percent increase in total state and local government employment. Now, about 79 percent of accountants and auditors aged 25-44 have a bachelor's degree or higher. And, a bachelors degree is still the most significant postsecondary education that is needed by most workers to become fully qualified in the occupation. But accountants and auditors work alongside a host of other personnel and it is important that these workers also acquire the skills and training to enter the workforce.

And so, to address this skills gap, we've made it a top priority of the Department to provide the resources that allow workers to take advantage of the new and increasing job opportunities available in the emerging sectors of our economy. The first step was to ensure that our system was reformed to make it more demand-driven. This meant welcoming employers into the community of workforce investment partners. And, it enabled educators and workforce training professionals to learn what education and training are needed to fill jobs in high-growth occupations.

Next, we increased the role of community colleges to ensure that the training offered to jobseekers was affordable and within reach. Lastly, we increased the capacity of community colleges and other training partners by funding training in high-growth, good-paying occupations such as healthcare, energy, and information technology. In all, this Administration has invested over $59 billion in workforce training since 2001. And the Department of Labor has invested more than $1 billion in developing national and regional workforce communities throughout America.

As a result of our efforts, we now have a workforce investment system more capable of providing the postsecondary education and training that is relevant for careers in today's economy. More work needs to be done, but we have laid the groundwork for future refinements.

The changes at the Labor Department did not happen all by themselves. They required a lot of hard work and bringing together career professionals at all levels of the Department. So we not only gave strategic importance to the goal of increasing workforce competitiveness. We asked a lot more of ourselves by demanding performance and accountability from all of the Department's more than 16,000 workers so that we would deliver more for America's workforce. And, we did it!

In this past year alone, the Department has:

  • Recovered a record $220 million for 341,000 workers who did not receive the wages they were due. This represents a 67 percentincrease in recoveries since 2001.
  • We've posted record results in enforcing equal opportunity rights for individuals working for federal contractors — with an increase in financial recoveries of 78 percent since 2001.
  • We've achieved monetary results of more than $10 billion for retirees' and workers' health, retirement, and other benefit plans since FY 2001.
  • We've reduced workplace fatality and serious injury and illness rates to record lows. Since 2002, the overall injury and illness rate has declined by 17 percent. And since 2001, worker fatalities have dropped by 7 percent. Most notable is the 17 percent reduction in fatalities among Hispanic workers since 2001.
  • We've paid almost $4 billion in compensation and medical benefits to nuclear weapons workers and their survivors since 2001.
  • In addition, we've launched the first national HireVetsFirst campaign to help our servicemen and women transition to civilian life. And in 2004, the Department created REALifelines to provide individualized job training, counseling, and reemployment and mentoring services to each and every soldier who was seriously injured or wounded in the War on Terror.

The Department has also been a responsible steward of the taxpayer's money by meeting or exceeding the goals of the President's Management Agenda. The Department remains at the top of all Cabinet Departments with five Green Status scores and five Green Progress scores. In fact, the Labor Department was the first Department or Agency to achieve this feat. And since 2001, the Department has received four President's Quality Awards. And it has been ranked #1 four times among all Federal agencies for its Annual Performance and Accountability Report by George Mason University's Mercatus Center.

And through it all, we've proven that it is possible to be more effective without large new infusions of taxpayers' dollars, as demonstrated by the fact that the Department's budget is roughly that same as it has been since we took office in 2001.

Finally, in 2008, the Department received its eighth consecutive Certificate of Excellence in Accountability Reporting from your organization, the Association of Government Accountants. On behalf of the entire Department, I want to thank you for that recognition of our hard work.

Government accountants at the federal, state, and local level have are uniquely positioned to help the public sector reduce fraud and make the best use of scarce resources. Your tasks are not easy, yet you approach your responsibilities with all of the professionalism Americans expect from public servants. Today, I'd like to urge all of you to continue to be good stewards of the taxpayer's money.

America's greatest competitive advantage is in the flexibility of our workforce, stable democratic institutions, transparency and accountability, and the rule of law. So thank you for doing your part to strengthen our nation's public and private sector institutions. Working together, we can continue to build a stronger more competitive America that is prepared for the challenges and opportunities ahead.

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