When the General Accounting Office attempted to verify the statistics provided by the Department of Labor regarding the effectiveness of its Job Corps program, it came across some careless work. For instance, a participant who had received clerical training and was allegedly working as a sales correspondent turned out to be sorting good and bad tomatoes on a conveyor belt. Similarly, an individual who was supposed to be operating a welding machine was actually just shuttling vehicles between airports. These exaggerated claims were just a few examples of questionable cases that the congressional investigative agency uncovered while examining job-placement statistics at five Job Corps centers.
In a report titled "Links With Labor Market Improved but Vocational Training Performance Overstated," which was delivered to Congress on November 4th, the GAO concludes, "Our work raises serious doubts about Labor’s assertions regarding the accomplishments of the Job Corps program." The Job Corps program provides vocational skills and basic education to around 60,000 underprivileged individuals aged 16 to 24 each year, while they reside at training centers. The program falls under the administration of the Labor Department as part of the Job Training Partnership Act and will have a budget of $1.4 billion in fiscal year 1999. For more information, the GAO report "Links With Labor Market Improved but Vocational Training Performance Overstated" is available from the General Accounting Office, with the first copy being free. Contact (202) 512-6000 and cite report number HEHS-99-15.
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., the chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight’s human resources subcommittee, requested the GAO audit. It revealed that the Labor Department had exaggerated the percentage of Job Corps participants who successfully completed vocational-training programs. The department reported the figure to be 48 percent, while the GAO determined it to be 14 percent. This discrepancy arose because the department used the term "completer" to describe both participants who completed certain parts of their vocational training and those who completed all of it, according to the GAO.
Mary H. Silva, the national director for the Job Corps, acknowledged the need for increased oversight in reporting job-placement rates. In an interview, she mentioned, "It’s disheartening to see examples that are troubling, as discovered by the GAO, which we can’t take pride in."
Ms. Silva explained that reporting and monitoring have been problematic due to the complicated coding system for job titles. The Job Corps is currently in the process of implementing a new coding system. However, two experts who oversee youth programs believe that fixing the reporting issues may be more challenging than the Labor Department acknowledges. Andrew B. Hahn, a human services research professor and the associate dean for the Heller graduate school for social policy at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., suggested that the fact that Job Corps statistics are collected by private contractors can lead to distortions. He said, "It’s possible that these vendors are inflating their numbers to secure contracts." Eric C. Rodriguez, the senior policy analyst for the National Council of La Raza, a nonprofit advocacy organization for Hispanics, agreed, stating, "There are numerous external pressures on companies, providers, and states to demonstrate significant results from their programs."
While the GAO report criticizes the Job Corps, it also commends its efforts to enhance the connection between training centers and employers to make vocational training more applicable. The report notes that the Labor Department has agreed to clearly define "completer" in future publications.