WASHINGTON — Federal job training programs in Oklahoma are a “convoluted mess” that cost $164 million a year and have little measurement for success, according to a report by Sen. Tom Coburn's office.
One program, called Job Corps, spends up to $76,000 a person to train young people for jobs that often pay minimum wage in Oklahoma, according to the report, which states overlap is common among 40 different programs that are operated by more than 45 entities and spread out across 180 physical locations in Oklahoma.
The system doesn't work for most job-seekers, many of whom don't even know the programs exist, or for employers, the report states.
“The vast majority that we spend on job training is not successful (at) getting someone into a job and a career path where they can stabilize their life, make a living and grow their opportunities,” Coburn said in an interview.
“Most of what we're doing in job training in Oklahoma is employing people in job training.”
Coburn said state officials aren't to blame and that the problem is a patchwork of federal programs created by Congress for which there is no oversight.
The senator commended the state's CareerTech system, and his report praises the state Rehabilitation Services Department for a program helping people with disabilities find work. He said state governments could do a better job designing and monitoring their own job programs.
A spokesman for the Department of Labor said: “The Department of Labor publishes a wide variety of performance statistics for the federal job training programs we administer through our state and local partners. For years we have made Workforce Investment Act quarterly performance data available online, and we recently created a new Job Corps page providing unprecedented transparency into the performance of every local Job Corps center. While we have not seen the full report, we look forward to working with Senator Coburn, the state of Oklahoma, and our other partners to ensure that federal job training funds are being used as effectively and efficiently as possible.”
Oklahoma not unique
Coburn's report, to be released Tuesday, was researched for a year by members of Coburn's staff and included visits to job training centers across the state and interviews with state agencies and training program participants.
Coburn said he had no reason to believe the situation in Oklahoma was unique. In fact, he decided to do a case study in Oklahoma after the release of federal reports about the duplication among job training programs nationwide and the lack of measurements for success.
The Government Accountability Office reported last year that nine federal agencies spent about $18 billion in fiscal year 2009 to administer 47 different programs.
“Nearly all programs track multiple outcome measures, but only five programs have had an impact study completed since 2004 to assess whether outcomes resulted from the program and not some other cause,” the GAO reported.
In Oklahoma, Coburn's staff found that:
• Job training programs are often segregated based on race and other demographics instead of being designed to meet labor market demands. There are eight different programs targeting American Indians and seven for veterans, making it difficult for those qualified to navigate the system.
• Federal funding is siphoned off not only for administrative expenses but for other costs unrelated to job training. The report states one Job Corps center, located in Guthrie, spent $36,000 in six months on flowers and billboards. The Southeast Workforce Investment Board's budget approved in 2011 allocated more for administrative travel than for dislocated worker services.
• The Job Corps office in Tulsa employs more than 126 full-time staff to run its operation. When the program runs at peak performance, it has 2.3 employees per program participant.
• The “One-Stop” system in Oklahoma, which is supposed to streamline programs and make them accessible at a single site, isn't working as it should since the typical center has only four of the 40 federal job training programs available. Those four represent only 15 percent of the federal job training funding in the state, while the remaining 85 percent is spread out in programs with different administrative structures.
Praise for one agency
Coburn's report praises one state agency for a training program that focuses on people who collect Social Security Disability Insurance. It says that since Jason Price, a manager for the Rehabilitation Services Department, designed the program in 2008, more than 15,000 clients go through annually and 2,500 to 3,000 find employment in some form.
Moreover, 75 to 100 clients have become self-sufficient each year and got off Social Security.
According to the report, that program does not meet does not meet the Government Accountability Office's stringent definition of an “employment and training program.”