A final rule implementing the Trump administration’s initiative to expand apprenticeship programs by creating an alternative model in which oversight would be transferred from government to industry groups has been sent to a White House office for review.
The White House Office of Information of Regulatory Affairs received the Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs regulation from the Labor Department on Jan. 30, according to a notice on OIRA’s website on Friday. The regulatory gatekeeper will now conduct legal and economic review and work with the agency on final edits before it can approve the regulation for public release.
The IRAPs project has been the centerpiece of the administration’s workplace policy for most of President Donald Trump’s time in office. The effort has slowed, however, amid funding uncertainties and the process of getting the regulation off the ground so that new job training programs can be launched.
The rule, which would implement a 2017 executive order outlining the program, aims to broaden involvement in job training programs from businesses in industries such as information technology and advanced manufacturing. The objective is to entice more business participation with the promise of reduced regulatory red tape.
The IRAP model would function separate from the existing registered apprenticeship system by setting up a new certification process that allows companies, trade groups, and unions—rather than the government—to screen and approve applicants for apprenticeship programs. The registered apprenticeship system, which has been in existence for more than 80 years, would remain in place.
After the rule is finalized, the Labor Department and the White House must convince Congress to dedicate funds to support the initiative. Financing questions intensified last fall when the department admitted to misspending $1.1 million on three contractors that performed work focused on building out the IRAP model.
Those contractors were paid through a funding stream Congress had appropriated only for registered apprenticeships. The department said it corrected the problem, but House Democrats continue to investigate whether the agency fully accounted for the spending error. The DOL inspector general is also probing whether the department’s action violated federal law.
Construction unions mounted a forceful campaign opposing IRAPs after the proposed version of the rule was published in June, flooding the department with public comments criticizing the regulation. The building trades unions, which have been more supportive of President Trump than the rest of organized labor, cited concerns that IRAPs could undermine the long-established talent pipeline of the registered apprenticeship model.
The department appeared to assuage those concerns by exempting the construction industry from participation in IRAPs as part of the proposed rule.
Lobbyists for building companies have pressed the administration to include them in the program because the construction industry has apprenticeship familiarity that would help the government to quickly scale up IRAPs. But building trades unions fear the industry’s real desire is to train more nonunion construction workers.
It remains unclear whether and how the final rule will attempt to resolve this debate. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia is overseeing the regulation. His predecessor, Alexander Acosta, who resigned in July, had sided with building trades unions and pushed for the construction industry to be excluded.