Job Bank Heist

By John Hollon

Jul. 27, 2007

In the end, it is pretty easy to see what killed America’s Job Bank: bureaucratic indifference, governmental ineptitude and a singular shortsightedness.

I believe in the old adage: “The government that governs least, governs best.” And that’s why I’m having a hard time coming to terms with the Department of Labor’s imperious and precipitous decision to shut down America’s Job Bank.

    On the surface, the decision to shutter the site seems like a slam-dunk. After all, what’s the government doing in the Internet job board business? Don’t Monster, CareerBuilder, Yahoo HotJobs and about a zillion other niche job boards do the very same thing? How can a government job board effectively compete with them?

    These are all good questions, but remember that America’s Job Bank was developed back in 1995, at the dawn of the Internet age. And, as Workforce Management’s Ed Frauenheim reports in article “What Killed America’s Job Bank?“, it was modestly successful, as evidenced by its 2.2 million jobs, more than 600,000 résumés and 450,000 registered employers using the site. CareerBuilder, by contrast, only claims to have about 1.5 million jobs.

    But what concerns me isn’t whether America’s Job Bank was successful enough, or even if government should be involved today in the job board business. I understand the push to privatize government services that can be handled more efficiently by the private sector. But what I don’t get is the decision by the Labor Department to systematically starve America’s Job Bank of resources and finally shut it down without any attempt to sell it off or get any return on investment for the taxpaying public.

    In fact, the bureaucrats at the Department of Labor seemed to go out of their way to systematically ignore or belittle any data or hard evidence that would support keeping America Job Bank running in some fashion. For example:

    Fact: A 2002 Labor Department report found that 35 percent of employers tracked over three months hired at least one person through America’s Job Bank.

    Fact: The site played a major role in interstate job data sharing, with 39 states submitting job listings to the site. Fact: This year, America’s Job Bank won a Weddle’s User’s Choice Award, an honor that recognizes “the Web sites that provide the best level of service and value to their visitors.” Other 2007 winners include Monster, CareerBuilder and Yahoo HotJobs.

    Fact: America’s Job Bank continued to be a viable Internet job site despite the decision by the Labor Department had it on a maintenance-only (read “starvation”) funding level of $12 million per year since early 2004.

    Even at its peak, the site wasn’t that costly to maintain—at least by government standards. The cost of the operating the site was around $27 million per year at the high point, which is a relatively small amount in a $54 billion 2007 Labor Department budget. And, given all the wasteful government spending and “bridges to nowhere” that get funded in Washington, you would think that a resource that was actually providing a needed service and doing it effectively would be worth continuing—or at a minimum, selling to someone in the private sector who might see some benefit in running it.

    In the end, it is pretty easy to see what killed America’s Job Bank. It was bureaucratic indifference, governmental ineptitude and a singular shortsightedness by Labor Department functionaries who seem to have an agenda that is completely devoid of reason or common sense.

    The adage is true: The government that governs least DOES govern best. If you were ever unsure of that, just ponder the notion that if the government hadn’t been hellbent on closing down America’s Job Bank, no matter how wasteful that might turn out to be, there might have been a better outcome for the site, to say nothing of the employers and job seekers it served.

    Workforce Management, July 23, 2007, p. 50Subscribe Now!

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