The national director of the Office of Job Corps has been removed from her office by U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, but no permanent replacement has been named to fill the vacancy.
Esther R. Johnson, the first Africa-American woman to hold the position, was named to the top Job Corps post in 2006 by President George W. Bush. In her sendoff, Solis described Johnson as a "dedicated" public servant. But there are questions about why Johnson, a career civil servant who wanted to steer more Job Corps students toward higher levels of post-secondary education, was reassigned as a "senior adviser" within the Office of the Deputy Secretary.
But the move also comes as Solis seeks to move Job Corps from her office back to the Employment and Training Administration.
"(Secretary Solis) simply felt that she would like to have the opportunity to have new leadership in the Job Corps program," U.S. Department of Labor spokesman Jesse Lawder told Youth Today in an e-mailed response to a request for information about the move.
Lynn A. Intrepidi, a former regional Job Corps director from Philadelphia, has been named as interim director. Lawder said the Department "will undertake a nationwide search for a new director, and the vacancy announcement for the position will be announced shortly. "
Despite the department's benign comments about Johnson's removal from the $1.7 billion education and training program for youths 16 to 24, several recent reports and audits have been highly critical of the program and sources say more critical audits are expected over the next several months.
In addition, Johnson's attitude toward Congress may have had considerable bearing on her removal.
After she was cited by the department's Office of Inspector General for failing to compile an annual report to Congress, Johnson fired off a memo stating that everything Congress wanted was already "publicly available" in different forms and that churning out a single annual report essentially wouldn't be worth the time or trouble.
"While Job Corps is open to the idea of developing such a consolidated report in tandem with the OIG, it should be noted that such a report is estimated to be more than six hundred pages of tables and data," Johnson wrote in the March 16 memo to Assistant Inspector General for Audit Elliot P. Lewis.
"Although expansive in scale and extremely labor-intensive to produce, it is questionable whether it would add any value to the reams of information that is already publicly available and regularly published in other formats."
That incident was followed in June by the release of a Government Accountability Office report that found Job Corps was wasting millions of dollars on unfilled slots because of its failure to attract and retain female students.
Job Corps - which has students stay in dormitories during their program training - spends $34,000 on each slot whether it is filled or not. The program had about 3,700 unfilled slots in 2007, and 90 percent of them had been reserved for females, the GAO report found.
On top of that, the Office of Inspector General's Seminannual Report to Congress found that the two Job Corps centers audited for the report had "overstated their performance" in the number of students that had completed vocational programs as well as their "on-board strength."
"Inaccurate reporting of performance data continues to present a significant concern," the OIG report to Congress stated. "This inaccurate reporting impacts management decision-making, incentive payments, and option years awarded to center operators under contract to Job Corps."
The same report also found a series of safety issues, including "insufficient monitoring to ensure that required safety inspections were performed and that emergency exit doors were not locked."
At the same time, Johnson won accolades in some quarters.
Just weeks before she was removed from her post, Johnson was selected for induction into this year's "Champions of Digital Literacy Hall of Fame."
The award is given by Certiport, an agency with which Job Corps was doing business. Specifically, Job Corps students who successfully completed various "foundational and finance courses" in math, business English, keyboarding and communications earned the "industry-recognized" credential from Certiport.
Johnson is seen speaking in this YouTube video posted by Certiport Corporate Communications just weeks before she was reassigned within the department.
In the video, Johnson says she would advise students to get certified in more than one area and says having a training certificate is like having money in hand. She also said employers have been pleased with Job Corps students.
"I've talked to employers and they've been very satisfied with the product that we send their way," Johnson said.
Johnson is a longtime employee within the Department of Labor. According to a biography posted on allgov.com, she joined the labor department's Office of Workforce Security in 1990. She later held several leadership assignments that included comptroller and associate administrator of the Office of Policy Research. She served as administrator for the Office of Performance and Technology in the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) before taking over the Job Corps in March 2006, according to the biography.