The country’s largest job training program for low-income youth has been without a permanent leader since last November, a little-discussed development as Job Corps struggles with ongoing Congressional scrutiny, tens of millions of dollars in budget overruns, and a controversial freeze on new enrollment.
Edna Primrose, who took over as national director of Job Corps in March 2010, wrote a memo titled “Transition” to program staff on Nov. 8, 2012, telling them she was leaving her position – which she described in the memo as her “dream job” – to move to another federal agency.
Last week, a Senate subcommittee held a hearing to probe how Job Corps could have overspent its budget by nearly $110 million over two years, and why it chose to freeze enrollment to cut costs rather than work with vendors to reduce expenses. A House committee is conducting its own review.
At the Senate hearing, Assistant Secretary Jane Oates of the Employment and Training Administration testified she first learned of a $39 million budget shortfall for Job Corps for fiscal year 2011 on April 27, 2012. It was then that her “then-national director” approached the deputy assistant secretary and came into Oates’ office with a procurement staff member to tell her about the problem. The program overspent its budget by an additional $69.5 million in the 2012 fiscal year.
Youth Today has obtained a copy of Primrose’s departing memo. In it, Primrose, who had served for years with Job Corps contractors in the field and as a staff member in the national office, did not explain her decision to step down from the program’s top job.
“After 14 years of service in Job Corps, in both the public and private sectors, I am resigning my position and will be transitioning to another federal agency to continue my civil service,” Primrose wrote. “Let me express how much of an honor it has been to serve as your National Director. I can tell you that I considered this position to be my ‘dream job.’”
“Job Corps will soon be 50 years old,” Primrose’s note continued. “The program has remained vibrant and viable because of our flexibility – we change with the times, we adapt to the industries we serve to ensure our graduates have the state-of-the-art skills and credentials to be competitive, and we tailor our service delivery systems to meet every student’s needs. We are always striving to be better, to do better, to help our students realize their potential, or as I like to say, help them ‘come into their awesomeness.’”
The memo hinted at the financial and management troubles plaguing the program. “… Job Corps could not survive without dedicated staff like you. There may be external factors that impact the program and they can be very challenging. In these times, it is important to stay focused on the students. They are counting on our best.”
Primrose’s memo appeared to defend her record on the job. “When I began as National Director, I introduced a four-part platform: Stability, Consistency, Accountability, and Transparency. Under my leadership, Job Corps has made significant strides in all of these areas,” Primrose wrote. “I always strived to be a worthy steward of this noble program, and I hope you know I fought for Job Corps and our students every day.”
Her memo ends on a wistful note: “I will always love this program and I wish you continued success. Take care of yourselves and take care of Job Corps.”
The Job Corps website continues to identify Primrose as the program’s administrator, and no official notice of her departure appears readily available on the Department of Labor website. News of her resignation does not appear to have been published in the Labor Department’s regular newsletters. And the last Labor Department news release about Primrose is dated 2010 and references her appointment as director of the Job Corps program.
Only the official Labor Department blog mentions Robert Pitulej as the acting head of Job Corps, in a blog post Pitulej published on Jan. 24. His post describes how Job Corps centers are working to meet environmental standards for federal buildings. Pitulej previously worked for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
An email sent to Pitulej’s OSHA address bounced back. A voicemail left for a senior Labor Department spokesman was not immediately returned.