It’s not altogether unusual for the federal government to have a law on the books long before the rules that govern how the law will be enforced have been created.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act was different, though, in one key way: It required every state to come up with a comprehensive plan for how it would carry out the law long before the final rules were completed. That left state plan developers with what was politely called “reasonable guesswork” but often derided as “fortune telling.” Now the final rules are finally out. So what’s next?
Not much. And quite a bit.
Let’s start with “not much.” The rulemaking effort was quite transparent, and draft rules were provided many times along the way, so there don’t seem to have been any real surprises in the final versions of the rules. It’s unlikely that any of the state plans will be found to be significantly out of compliance with the guidelines for implementation. In some cases, small tweaks will be warranted.
Which brings us to “quite a bit.” Even knowing that it was unlikely that anything more than small changes would be necessary once the final rules were published, a lot of states have been waiting to lean into their WIOA programs. In a sense, the funky timeline left state labor and education leaders in a position similar to that of a baseball manager who is waiting to complete a game lineup until knowing whether a certain infielder will be available. A starting lineup is nine players (or 10 in the unholy American League, which uses designated hitters) but the availability of one player over another can change everything from batting order to field positioning to the pitching rotation. That uncertainty drew the ire of several state leaders, as well as Republican Reps. John Kline and Virginia Foxx, who said in a joint statement that it was “a shame that it has taken this long for the administration to do its job and implement these critical reforms.” The rules, of course, are written in classic bureaucratese, so it will take some time to parse out all of the implications in the hundreds of pages of rule explanations in the federal register, but what can be said now is that states can finally set to work implementing rules that they know won’t be changing.
What all of this is to say is that there are no more excuses for inaction. WIOA is officially here — in every way.