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GAO Faults Labor on Quality, Delays of Evaluations

A new Government Accountability Office study found a pattern of long delays in the issuing of reports from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (DOLETA).

Of 34 research reports released by DOLETA in 2008, the study found that reports on 20 programs – the combined costs for the reports was $28 million – had been delayed between two and five years.

For example, a final evaluation of the Youth Opportunity Grant Initiative of 2000-2005 was submitted to DOLETA roughly one year into President George W. Bush’s first term.  But by the time it posted the Youth Opportunity evaluation on its website, three years had passed and the Bush Administration was on its way out the door.

The GAO report faulted ETA not only for delays, but for a lack of quality in research conducted since 2002, early in Bush’s first term.

“Since 2002, GAO and others have criticized ETA for not focusing sufficient attention on its research program, particularly with regard to complying with congressional mandates, conducting policy-relevant research, and disseminating key research findings in a timely way,” the GAO report states.

Among other things, the GAO recommends that ETA give more decision-making authority to its research and evaluation center, do more to make the dissemination of its research more transparent and involve more outside experts, all steps meant to curtail political influences.

In its preliminary response to the GAO, ETA said it was working on improving its evaluation process and publication. 

“As ETA reviews and updates its processes, we urge the agency to make the steps more specific in order to help ensure transparency and accountability,” the report stated.

Youth policy advocates were also critical of the delaying, saying that timely dissemination of research is crucial for crafting good public policy for youths in economically distressed neighborhoods.

“This is very important for the future,” said Linda Harris, director of youth policy at the District of Columbia-based Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

Harris is former director of the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. As such, she played a key role in helping the city win a $44 million Youth Opportunity grant in 2000. The Youth Opportunity grants, also known as YO! grants, were meant to enable local agencies to collaborate to get youths in high-poverty areas re-engaged in education and employment.

“If you’re going to make expenditures on research and development, there has to be a certain level of transparency and requirements that these research studies find their way out into the public domain to fuel what needs to go on,” Harris said. “This is a population that we need to learn as much as we can about how we accelerate their learning and connections and movement.”

Are such delays polictics as usual?

Not completely.

Robert Taggart, president and founder of the Remediation and Training Institute in Alexandra, Va., and former Carter Administration youth employment official, said the ETA’s serial delays of youth program evaluations temmed more from the Bush administration’s lack of interest in youth programs than a willfulness to withhold information about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the programs.

“I think it’s just lethargy, apathy and incompetence,” said Taggart, who directed federal youth employment programs under President Jimmy Carter.

“If you’re looking for a political [motive], I’d be the first one to charge it,” Taggart said, lamenting that he felt the ETA’s research division has been gutted over the years and has produced substandard research as a result.

He also said that the results of the Youth Opportunity evaluation were unimpressive – a characterization with which Youth Opportunity proponents disagree – and thus there was less of an interest in publishing the results  since the program was viewed by the Bush Administration as ineffective.

And the delays are continuing.  An evaluation of the summer jobs program funded under the Recovery Act of 2009 was submitted to ETA last fall by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. but has not been released, despite repeated requests.

Jonathan Larsen, policy associate at the district-based National Youth Employment Coalition, said the evaluation of the summer jobs program would be “extremely valuable.”

“People want to know. People are going to look at those programs that were successful in expanding programs and enrolling a lot of youth and making good job placements,” Larsen said.

Jared Aaker, summer youth employment program director at Hire-A-Youth, a program of the San Diego Workforce Partnership, Inc., voiced similar concerns.

Asked when he’d like to see the evaluation, Aaker said: “Yesterday. Everything is yesterday in this program.”

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