Capitol Briefing: Mobilizing For Change

By Thomas R. Stowell


When we gathered in Washington, D.C. for NCDA's 2008 Annual Conference, our focus was on public policy and the importance of our collective voice in the legislative process. The conference theme, Public Policy and Advocacy - Finding our Voice and Making it Heard, charged us to consider how we could contribute to a national discussion on the importance of our work.


Who could have predicted that in the year since that conference, we would elect our first African American President, witness one of the worst economic disasters since the Great Depression, and see our unemployment rate rise to levels not seen in over 25 years? I would say that our collective voice as career practitioners is more important now than ever before.

As an organization, NCDA is committed to sharing information and resources about important legislative activities with our membership. Unlike many other professional organizations, NCDA does not have a dedicated staff of government relations professionals to lobby at the state and federal level. Instead, we rely on volunteer committees and our members to research, band together, and advocate on behalf of the organization. In the months and years ahead, a number of important legislative initiatives will be brought forward for consideration. We need your help to ensure that NCDA's legislative agenda moves forward. 

To assist our members in their advocacy efforts, NCDA established the Government Relations Committee and the Public Policy Council. Over the coming months, you can expect to hear much more about their efforts. Specifically, we will launch a new Government Relations and Public Policy section on the NCDA Website, develop an advocacy manual for members and state leaders, and contribute articles to NCDA publications in order to keep you informed.

As a first step, let me provide you with a brief overview of the issues that lie ahead: 

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act1, we have seen over $4 billion dollars allocated to programs dealing with workforce development, unemployment assistance, and retraining. This infusion serves as a temporary "band aid" while formal policy statements and official legislation are written or revised. In the near future, many pieces of legislation related to career and workforce development will come before Congress for consideration or reauthorization. These include: the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), continued funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, and the No Child Left Behind Legislation, among others. 

In addition to the reauthorization of existing legislation, the Obama Administration has proposed several new initiatives that will have a direct impact on our work. For example, the White House Middle Class Task Force2 has been looking at issues of educational affordability, green jobs, and worker sustainability. There has also been an increased emphasis on the role of community colleges as a resource and tool for providing both initial and supplemental training to our workforce. President Obama outlined a new American Graduation Initiative3 in mid-July that promises to dramatically increase federal funds to community colleges while placing a strong emphasis on life-long learning, efficiency, and sustainability.

As initiatives are brought forward, we must do our part to educate local, state, and national leaders about the role that both NCDA and career development practitioners can play in shaping public policy. The following are just a few resources that you can utilize to stay informed and get involved:

  1. Are you interested in learning about the latest developments pertaining to a specific issue or piece of legislation? Visit www.thomas.gov, a resource administered by the Library of Congress, to search for amendments, committee referrals, and action on legislation that comes before the United States House of Representatives.   
  2. The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (http://help.senate.gov/) and the House Committee on Education and Labor (http://edworkforce.house.gov/) are the two key committees that will deal with a majority of the legislation impacting our field. 
  3. The website for the Clerk of the United States House of Representatives (http://clerk.house.gov/committee_info/index.html) includes a listing of all committees and subcommittees and the members assigned to each.  Be sure to browse the information contained in the Legislative Resource Center (found under the "offices and services" tab for information provided by the House Library. 

Despite our best efforts, our profession will always face obstacles. This was evident just a few weeks ago at our annual conference in St. Louis. There, I had the opportunity to speak with many of you about the challenges we face. Members, state leaders, board members, and guests shared, with great passion, the hurdles that practitioners face on a daily basis.  Despite the challenges, I was impressed by many of my colleagues' optimistic and determined outlook. 

As an organization, NCDA exists because of the optimism, innovation, and passion of our members. We need your help and your voice as we engage in efforts to change the culture of career development through improved legislation, increased understanding, and broader public support for programs, initiatives, and systems. I urge you to be informed, get involved, and take a stand for causes that are of great importance to both NCDA and our profession.    

Thomas R. Stowell, EdS, GCDF is Chair of the Government Relations Committee and a member of the 2009-2010 Leadership Academy.  He is Assistant Director for Career and Consulting Services and Lecturer in Counseling at The George Washington University.  He also maintains a private practice.  He can be reached at tom@tomstowell.com.  

1 Source:  www.recovery.gov

2 Source:  www.whitehouse.gov/strongmiddleclass/

3 Source:  www.whitehouse.gov/blog



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