Howard "Buck" McKeon
Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-California, became chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee in February, taking over when the previous chair, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, was elected majority leader. McKeon, the first mayor of Santa Clarita, California, spent three decades running his own Western wear business before coming to Congress. He recently spoke to Workforce Management staff writer Mark Schoeff Jr.
Workforce Management: Why should corporate executives pay attention to your committee?
Rep. Howard McKeon: Companies are looking for a trained workforce. They have to know what’s going on in the education field. We have a great impact here on the education committee with what happens. We’re driving a lot of the change or are at least aware of it and making sure it moves forward.
WM: How can Washington address what many believe is a U.S. skills shortage?
McKeon: I see it as a three-prong problem. There are almost critical needs right now. The best way to address that is probably to look at H-1B visas and see what can be done about opening that up to bring in more people to help us immediately. Secondly, it’s a midrange problem—that is, kids in college now or in the last years of high school. We need to make more of an emphasis on technology. The president of Cal Tech told me that one great scientist is worth a thousand good scientists. So we need to concentrate on the very best and help them become better. The long-range problem is going to be addressed starting with kids going into kindergarten right now. We passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which will make sure that kids know how to read, that they learn basic math, that they learn how to write.
WM: You’ve said that the responsibility of this committee is to get the whole country turned on to education. What do you mean?
McKeon: I took a congressional trip to China last year. Everywhere we went, we could see there was a great emphasis in the culture on education. They know that’s the only way to improve their lot in life. The parents and the four grandparents are all working on that one child to do well in education. We don’t have that in our country. The culture of education, that’s what we’re competing with.
WM: You took a 30-year break between starting and finishing your undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University. What is your view of nontraditional learning?
McKeon: I was learning all 30 years because I was in business. You’re learning about dealing with people, how to improve your business. I think everybody that has a desire to improve themselves is doing the same thing.
WM: How do you make competitiveness an issue that determines elections?
McKeon: I don’t want it to be a partisan issue. It’s something we ought to come together on like we did after Pearl Harbor and like we did after 9/11. If we don’t wake up and we don’t develop the best-trained and -educated workforce in the world, we’re not going to continue our world leadership.
Workforce Management, June 26, 2006, p. 11 -- Subscribe Now!