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Inside Politics

Bush proposes job-training overhaul

Kerry focuses on job losses
President Bush talks Monday in Charlotte, North Carolina, describing "a skills gap" in the workforce.

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George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Riding a wave of increased optimism from a government report on job growth, President Bush announced Monday a proposal to overhaul the nation's federal job training programs, saying it would help meet the needs of Americans in a changing economy.

"We're not training enough people to fill the jobs of the 21st century," Bush told a crowd of supporters at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, North Carolina. "There's a skills gap."

The president said his proposal would double the number of workers undergoing federally funded job training -- from 200,000 to 400,000 -- through giving states more control, ensuring greater efficiency, and requiring proof of results.

The announcement, on a campaign swing through the hotly contested state, was part of a continuing effort to prove his commitment to job growth despite overall losses under his administration.

A senior administration official said that despite the Labor Department report last week showing that 308,000 jobs were created in March, Bush remains concerned that many unemployed workers lack the skills to fill some of the new jobs. (CNN/Money: U.S. job growth soars in March)

His campaign rival, Democratic Sen. John Kerry, has made job losses a central campaign theme -- and offered no lull Monday.

"While President Bush celebrates being nearly 7 million jobs short of his goal of creating 5.1 million jobs, Senator Kerry will join Democrats around the country this week to highlight Kerry's new direction for America," the Kerry campaign said in a written statement.

The statement said Kerry would revisit his own jobs plan during a speech Wednesday.

Kerry announced in a speech last week that one step in that plan would be removing tax breaks that "encourage" companies to move overseas, thereby "outsourcing" jobs.

Kerry visited a jobs center Monday in Washington that helps unemployed people look for work. Kerry spoke with several about their struggles, and vowed several times to do all he can to "get the economy moving again."

Bush, in his speech Monday, praised the "growing" U.S. economy.

"As it grows it changes," Bush said. "And so what we need to do is adapt our systems and the programs we've got in place to help meet the needs of our people. It's a legitimate role of the federal government ... to help the people who want to help themselves."

The president spelled out three central steps to revamping the $4 billion federally funded job training system.

First, he would remove rules that allow the federal government to "micromanage" the system and move control to the states, so governors could distribute funds to programs "which actually are training people" for "jobs which exist."

Second, Bush said, his plan would place a strict 15 percent cap on overhead costs. Money saved could help ensure that 100,000 workers a year get trained, he said.

Third, Bush said, clear accountability would be demanded. "Job centers will report how many people they help find work," as well as "how much they earn on their jobs and how long they stay on those jobs. That's what ought to be measured, and nothing else."

He added, "We just want to make sure the taxpayers' money we're spending is helping people to the maximum extent possible."

Senior administration officials told CNN the changes would affect two federally funded programs that provide job training for adults and displaced workers. The cost would $550 million, with $300 million of that coming from streamlining and consolidating the current programs. The additional $250 million would be part of an initiative Bush previously announced to increase funding for community colleges, where much of the training takes place, the officials said.

As part of the changes, "innovation training accounts" would be introduced, providing job training money directly to individuals who meet eligibility requirements, the officials said.

"There's nothing better than an innovative person seizing the moment," said Bush. "We want the American dream to shine brightly."

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