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As the clock ticks toward the end of the Giuliani administration and pressure builds to help New Yorkers who have lost jobs since September 11, the city's Human Resources Administration last week kicked into overdrive its long-delayed plan to start up six new job training centers. HRA's haste, however, could lead to waste of federal job training funds as state and federal workforce development officials warn that the city's new contracts might run afoul of the law.

At two hearings before the Mayor's Office of Contracts last week, the city released the names of seven nonprofit and for-profit job training groups chosen to receive a total of $50 million under the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA). If approved by the city comptroller, the contractors would open the centers in all five boroughs by early 2002.

Given the city's economic struggles, the centers are welcome additions to the city's job training programs; to date, only one such center is in operation, in Jamaica, Queens. But HRA's choice of contractors without review from the public or from the Workforce Investment Board, the feds' local employment policy board, has raised concerns from here to Washington.

“I am concerned that these contracts may emphasize job searches, relegating training to a 'last resort' status,” testified City Councilmember Kathryn Freed at last Thursday's hearing. This practice may, in turn, “jeopardize our WIA funding, thereby threatening the livelihoods of thousands of New Yorkers.”

In fact, in a letter to the Mayor's Office of Contracts dated October 23, New York State Department of Labor official Margaret Moree warned that a longstanding federal review of how the city's WIA implementation efforts could invalidate the one-stop contracts and lead to cuts in federal funding for the Big Apple. One issue is that the one-stop may not include all the partner agencies WIA requires.

Of course, for any of these new one-stops to be established, the contracts must first pass muster with the comptroller's office, and the city may have to fight hard for its approval. Two years ago, Comptroller Alan Hevesi took the city to court for issuing welfare-to-work contracts to Maximus, a Virginia-based company with ties to staff at HRA including Commissioner Jason Turner. A judge dismissed the case. The city has chosen Maximus for this newest round of contracts, and will go before Hevesi for approval.

“It's obviously of concern that they're coming through so late in the administration,” said a source inside the comptroller's office.

Freed and Councilmember Steve DiBrienza have scheduled a public hearing on the contracts for November 19. “We want to get the Mayor's Office of Contracts and HRA to explain, one, why they're in such a hurry to do this,” said a Council staffer, “and two, why they're so determined to go ahead despite the warnings that it'll cost the city in WIA funds.”

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