A Government Accountability Office report on federally funded employment and training programs, more than half of which serve youth, shows the roughly $18 billion in total fiscal year 2009 funding supported “overlapping” and “duplicate” services and many programs that do a poor job tracking their own effectiveness.
The report recommends greater coordination among federal agencies and the employment programs they fund to prevent such waste and inefficiency, and prompted a bipartisan statement co-signed by Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) calling for the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act to accomplish this recommendation.
GAO authors concede overlapping programs still sometimes provide distinct services for different types of populations and that some evaluation methods are extremely difficult and expensive to conduct, but nevertheless call for improved efficiency among the nine government agencies that support the 47 employment and training programs.
Among the 47 programs, five are identified as serving primarily youth and another 20 include youth in their target populations. The five youth-focused programs, which combined to receive around $4.2 billion in federal appropriations in 2009 – or nearly one-quarter of the total appropriations to all employment and training programs – are:
* WIA Youth Activities ($2.1 billion through the Department of Labor to impact 282,426 individuals)
* Job Corps ($1.9 billion through DOL to serve 59,357 people
* YouthBuild ($119.5 million through DOL to serve 5,890)
* National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program ($92 million through the Department of Defense to serve 9,750)
*Conservation Activities by Youth Service Organizations ($8 million through the Department of the Interior to serve 2,601).
WIA Youth Activities appropriations account for nearly 12 percent of total employment program funding.
The inefficiency and lack of evidence documented in the report cut across all types of programs surveyed in the report. “All but three of the programs we surveyed overlap with at least one other program, in that they provide at least one similar service to a similar population,” the report notes, before later qualifying that “even when programs overlap, the services they provide and the populations they serve may differ in meaningful ways.”
Though the report found 41 of the 47 programs did track three outcome measures in 2009 – most frequently measuring whether participants entered employment – “Little is known about the effectiveness of the employment and training programs we identified because only five reported demonstrating whether outcomes can be attributed to the program through an impact study, and about half of all the programs have not had a performance review since 2004.”
Of the five programs that did conduct impact studies, two do a significant amount of youth work: the National Guard Youth Challenge Program and Reintegration of Ex-Offenders. However, these impact studies do not necessarily have encouraging results. The authors note these studies “generally found that the effects of participation were not consistent across programs, with only some demonstrating positive impacts that tended to be small, inconclusive, or restricted to short-term impact.”
Among the recommended types of partnerships between agencies and programs to increase efficiencies are for the programs to be co-located within one-stop centers, electronically linked or linked through referrals to improve efficiency.
Enzi, who commissioned the report along with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), identified the Workforce Investment Act as “critical to better aligning these programs to maximize coordination and optimize successful job placement,” in the joint statement.
Those in the youth work field are not optimistic WIA will be reauthorized in the current congressional session, tending to believe the 2003-expired bill will take a back seat in the next two years to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
National Youth Employment Coalition Executive Director Mala Thakur told a group convened at the National Association of Workforce Boards conference last weekend that she had yet to hear word from the House or Senate this session on WIA’s current status.