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Comprehensive Employment and Training Act

The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) represented an ambitious federal undertaking to decentralize government employment and training programs stemming from President Richard Nixon’s “New Federalism” proposals. State and local labor market conditions varied greatly across the nation, as did target populations needing assistance. Local communities were thought best able to determine their own needs, resolve problems, and improve the conditions of those economically disadvantaged, unemployed, or underemployed. First enacted in 1973 by Congress, CETA was reauthorized in 1978 but was eventually replaced by the Job Training Partnership Act in 1982.

CETA programs spanned the service of four presidents—Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan—and were often controversial. U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) spending for employment and training during the Carter years totaled $34 billion, more than 2.5 times the amount during 1973–76, with about 4 million eligible individuals receiving training or public service jobs each year. Enormous expenditures, coupled with the decentralized nature of job creation and training efforts, brought allegations of fraud, waste, and abuse. Sometimes those who enrolled did not meet federally set eligibility criteria. Sometimes the temporary jobs filled by eligible individuals within state and local government agencies were ones originally paid for from local tax resources, so that the result was impermissible federal funds substitution and no net job creation. Lastly, job training for eligible individuals frequently did not lead to hoped-for permanent jobs.

Another controversy involved a lack of coordination with and bypassing of some state and local officials. CETA “prime sponsors” eligible to receive USDOL grants were cities and counties of more than 100,000 population, with governors responsible for operating “balance-of-state” programs covering largely rural areas only; thus, most federal block grant funds bypassed state governments. Discretionary funds made available to governors for statewide programs, including the operation of state employment and training councils, were intended to help coordinate the efforts of all prime sponsors and subcontractors, but did not result in such statewide cooperation. Moreover, USDOL grants made directly to Native Americans, migrants, and others bypassed all prime sponsors. State legislators, city council members, and others having appropriations and policy responsibilities felt left out of the CETA executive branch–centered process. So did the vocational education community, and local school board members whose schools were receiving CETA funds from prime sponsors.

Accordingly, CETA represents both noble federalism intentions and compassion in assisting those truly needing job training and employment, but also a lack of program effectiveness and governmental accountability.

SEE ALSO: New Federalism (Nixon)


Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act: Early Readings from a Hybrid Block Grant (Washington, DC: ACIR, 1977); Illinois General Assembly, The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA): A Critical Issue in Intergovernmental Relations (Springfield: Illinois Commission on Intergovernmental Cooperation, 1979); William Mirengoff and Lester Rindler, CETA: Manpower Programs under Local Control (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1978); and Bonnie B. Snedeker and David M. Snedeker, CETA: Decentralization on Trial (Salt Lake City, UT: Olympus Publishing Company, 1978).