"We were trying to be proactive and the cost savings that we recommended would not have hurt students, would not have meant staff layoffs," Leonard said. "We got no response and were totally caught off guard when the announcement of a nationwide enrollment suspension occurred on Jan. 18."
Fillichio, the Labor Department spokesman, said the agency did consider recommendations made "by work groups that included representatives of the Job Corps contractor community."
He said Job Corps is conducting an exhaustive review of its current operating costs in order to make changes that ensure program costs "are sustainable in the future."
In a letter last June to Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the Labor Department said the 2011 shortfall happened in part because of a lack of "program monitoring tools and internal controls to sufficiently analyze" spending trends by operators and contractors.
The freeze on new enrollment has caused alarm in congressional offices around the country, with lawmakers concerned about the loss of hundreds of jobs among those working at the centers and the loss of opportunity for young people looking for work.
"It's clear the management and oversight of the Job Corps program has been deficient, and it's unfortunate and disappointing that our nation's disadvantaged youth will suffer the consequences of this failure," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a Feb. 6 letter to acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris.
Minnesota Rep. John Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, launched an investigation of the program earlier this month. He asked for an explanation of why the shortfall happened, saying his 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."
The Labor Department had not yet responded to Kline's request as of late Friday.
Casey, who heads a panel of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, pledged to hold a hearing on the matter within the next two months.
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