Audit Questions Job Corps Placement Claims

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A new audit by the Labor Department’s Inspector General accuses its Job Corps program of doing exactly what the Education Department accuses for-profit colleges of doing: labeling as successful the placement of graduates in jobs that require little or no training, or have only the most tangential association with their training.

More and more post-secondary schools are being accused of this ruse, most recently law schools for claiming that their graduates have been placed in high-paying legal jobs.

But while the hubbub about mislabeling job placements has swirled around these schools for the past couple of years, the Labor Department Inspector General’s audit states that the IG office has been critical for more than a decade of how Job Corps counts placements. It also states that despite spending almost $1.5 million for consultants and an advisory committee over the past four years to counsel the department on how to improve placements and link Job Corps graduates to jobs they trained for, the corps has made virtually no progress.

Labor Department officials did not respond to numerous requests to discuss the report. 

In its reply to the IG’s draft report, Jane Oates, assistant secretary for employment and training, said the report writers and researchers failed to understand Job Corps’  “performance management” system and  they used “outdated policies and procedures” in assessing Job Corps performance.

Also at issue in the report is the true cost of training a Job Corps participant, what the IG’s office refers to as “cost efficiency.”  It computes the individual cost at $76,574, which it says represents the cost “per placement.”

Oates said in her letter to the inspector general’s office that there is no “cost efficiency” measure for any federal job training programs, and put the “per enrollee” cost at $26,551. But IG’s office rejected Oates’ argument and said that calculating the cost per enrollee actually rewarded the agency when a student dropped out before completing their training.

In its letter to Oates – dated Sept. 30, the day the audit was released – the inspector general’s office said the objective of the audit was to answer the question: “To what extent does Job Corps have metrics in place to access the program’s performance?”

The audit is signed by Elliot P. Lewis, assistant inspector general for audit. Although Paul Tiao, a special counsel to the FBI, was nominated in May 2010 to be the department’s inspector general, his nomination was withdrawn in May 2011 in the face of  tough Republican opposition. The department has been operating with an acting inspector general, Daniel Petrole, a former Secret Service agent, since July 2008 when Gordon Heddell was moved to the Department of Defense. Petrole is the deputy inspector general.

According to the audit, which covered 2009 and October 2010, the Job Corps counted as successful matched placements 2,945 placements that had little or nothing to do with the training the Job Corps graduate received. And it counted 3,837 other placements as successfully matched, when graduates actually enlisted in the military or went on to other postsecondary education endeavors.

The audit questioned a total of 1,569 placements in jobs such as fast food cook, fast food cashier, stock clerk and janitor that should have needed no real vocational training and that it said didn’t require a Job Corps graduate.

The audit put the cost of training these Job Corps members at $59.53 million for 2009 and October 2010  and said the money would have been spent better for other expenses, and that contractors used to place Job Corps graduates in these jobs should not receive bonuses or recognition of these jobs as meeting their contracts.

Similarly, the IG audit said those who enlisted in the military or pursued other post secondary schooling after Job Corps graduation should not be counted as be placed successfully.

In her letter rebutting many of the report’s findings, Oates said the inspector general’s team had used the wrong policies to assess 90 percent of the placements and argued that given the deficiencies of Job Corps members – education level at the sixth to eighth grade level, high school dropouts who had never held a job – placement and continued work for a year at even entry-level jobs was actually success, especially considering the current unemployment situation.

“This economic downturn has resulted in Job Corps youth competing in today’s workforce with adults of all skill levels,” Oates wrote. “Under these conditions, ETA disagrees with the OIG [Office of Inspector General] that valid placements in entry-level jobs equates to wasteful spending …entering the workforce and maintaining employment is a first step in a student’s career pathway.”