House Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, R-MN, and Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, R-NC, want to know why the Job Corps keeps coming up short of millions of dollars.
"Congress must get to the bottom of the budgetary shortfalls that continue to plague the Job Corps program," Kline said in a statement issued today. "I expect the department and all interested stakeholders to cooperate fully with the committee's investigation so we can ensure this program serves our nation's youth while protecting taxpayers' investment."
The Job Corps was one of President Lyndon Johnson's signature "Great Society" programs in the 1960s and is intended to help disadvantaged young people obtain skills for useful employment. The $1.7 billion program is managed by the Department of Labor, which contracts with private sector firms to help operate 125 Job Corps centers across the nation serving approximately 60,000 enrollees.
The problem that has the attention of Kline and Foxx has been building for several years. There was a $39 million shortfall in 2011, followed by a $60 million shortfall last year. Labor Department officials put a freeze on accepting new enrollees in the program in January.
In their letter to Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris, Kline and Fox said they want to know why DOL officials knew about the funding problems at the Job Corps but "failed to anticipate and address the specific causes or take action to stabilize the financial condition of the program. Instead, it continues to take temporary steps to achieve savings to cover the shortfall, estimated at more than $100 million over the last two program years."
With reductions of hundreds of millions of dollars in discretionary federal spending imminent, Kline and Fox noted, "the department's lack of action is even more concerning considering the impending sequestration. The committee is growing increasingly concerned with the ability of the department and its contractors to manage the program's budget in the short and long term."
Kline and Fox also wrote to the National Job Corps Association, a trade group that represents Job Corps contractors, and the DOL Inspector General, which recently issued a report that was critical of officials with the department for issuing nearly 200 employment training grants at a cost of $230 million without knowing whether any of them accomplished their purposes.
Richard Manning, a former chief of staff within a DOL department, told The Washington Examiner the investigation is needed because "President Obama's Labor Department financial mismanagement is effectively shutting down Job Corps opportunities for at risk young people around the nation."
Manning, who is now a spokesman with Americans for Limited Government, a non-profit advocacy group, added that "it's not a question of whether Job Corps should be funded, but instead it is a question of how Obama's Labor Department has failed in its responsibility to both the taxpayers and to the Job Corps students. Hopefully, Chairman Kline's investigation into this malfeasance, will lead to those responsible being held accountable."
Go here for the Kline/Fox letters and additional information on the committee's oversight activities.