Job Corps' Successes Were Overstated, GAO Audit Finds
When the General Accounting Office tried to verify statistics from the Department of Labor on the success of its Job Corps program, it found some sloppy work.
A participant who received clerical training and was said to be working as a sales correspondent, for example, actually had a job sorting bad tomatoes from good ones on a conveyor belt. An individual who was reportedly operating a welding machine was found instead to be shuttling vehicles between airports.
Those inflated claims were among many questionable cases the congressional investigative agency discovered while examining job-placement statistics at five Job Corps centers.
"Our work raises serious questions regarding Labor's claims about Job Corps' achievements," the GAO concludes in a report titled "Links With Labor Market Improved but Vocational Training Performance Overstated," which was sent to Congress Nov. 4.
The Job Corps program, which serves about 60,000 poor 16- to 24-year-olds each year, teaches participants vocational skills and basic education while they reside at training centers. The program is administered by the Labor Department under the Job Training Partnership Act and will cost $1.4 billion in fiscal 1999.
For More Information:
"Links With Labor Market Improved but Vocational Training Performance Overstated" is available from the General Accounting Office. The first copy is free. Call (202) 512-6000, and cite report N. HEHS-99-15.
The GAO audit, which was requested by Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., the chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight's human resources subcommittee, also found that the Labor Department had overstated the percentage of Job Corps participants who complete vocational-training programs. The department reported the figure at 48 percent, while the GAO set it at 14 percent.
The discrepancy arose because the department used the word "completer" to describe both the participants who completed some parts of their vocational training and those who completed all of it, according to the GAO.
Mary H. Silva, the national director for the Job Corps, acknowledged the need for more oversight in reporting job-placement rates.
"It's disappointing when there are examples that make you uncomfortable, which the GAO found, that you wouldn't be proud of," she said in an interview.
Changes on the Way
Ms. Silva explained that a complicated coding system for job titles had led to problems in reporting and monitoring. The Job Corps is in the process of implementing a new coding system, she said.
But two experts who monitor youth programs said that fixing the reporting problems might be more difficult than implied by the Labor Department's response.
The fact that Job Corps statistics are gathered by private contractors can lead to distortions, said Andrew B. Hahn, a human services research professor and the associate dean for the Heller graduate school for social policy at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.
"It may be possible that these vendors are inflating their numbers in order to be awarded contracts," he said.
"There are a lot of external pressures on companies, providers, and states to show big results from their programs," agreed Eric C. Rodriguez, the senior policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, a nonprofit advocacy organization for Hispanics.
As for the vocational-training programs, the GAO notes that the Labor Department had agreed to define what it meant by a "completer" in future publications.
While the report criticizes the Job Corps, it also applauds its efforts to better link training centers and employers to make vocational training more relevant.
Vol. 18, Issue 13, Page 16