The Workforce Investment Act of 1998: Restructuring Workforce Development Initiatives in States and Localities

The Workforce Investment Act of 1998: Restructuring Workforce Development Initiatives in States and Localities

Researcher(s): Dan O'Shea and Christopher T. King
April 2001
Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, Albany, NY
Publication Type:
Full Report (PDF)

Abstract: The Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA), the first significant attempt to retool the nation’s workforce development programs since the early 1980s, represents broad support for a national workforce development system based on informed consumer choice, universal access to employment and training services, more systemic accountability, strong local governance, and active private sector participation. This report discusses key features of WIA and the early implementation experiences and challenges faced by states and localities, based largely on research in Texas, Tennessee, and Washington State.


The report indicates that the implementation of the Act raises many practical implementation issues, and that the prospects for dramatic change depend on the will and capacity of states and localities to endorse the system-building intentions of the Act, as well as the closeness with which voluntary and mandatory provisions contained within WIA conform to existing state and local workforce development polices and practices. The challenges of building partnerships and establishing proportional fiscal responsibility for “one-stop” service delivery; the tensions between the “Work First” approach contained in WIA and access to substantive education and training; and the uses of information technology, performance measures, and provider eligibility criteria are among the many implementation issues presented.

The report continues the discussion of “devolution” that began with the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 by raising issues regarding the balance of authority between the state and federal governments, the relative autonomy of localities within states, and the relationship between market-based and institutional approaches to workforce development.

The Rockefeller Institute provided research support to the authors from the Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources at The University of Texas at Austin. The Institute plans to conduct field research on workforce development policies and programs in 2002.

Ray Marshall Center

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