Pushing Fast Jobs

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As the clock ticked toward the end of the Giuliani Administration and pressure built to help New Yorkers who lost jobs since September 11–an estimated 79,000 in October alone–the city’s Human Resources Administration 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.

In early November, the city announced the names of seven nonprofit and for-profit job training groups awarded contracts totaling $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 the way the city runs that center–and HRA’s choice of contractors without review from the public or from the local Workforce Investment Board, charged by federal mandate to set policy priorities–has raised concerns from here to Washington.

“There appears to be no unified system to track individuals, services and funds,” Marilyn Shea, a regional administrator at the U.S. Department of Labor, testified at a City Council hearing on November 19. Shea noted her agency’s concerns about the city starting up new centers without addressing issues in Jamaica, and warned that funding could be the ultimate casualty. “We don’t want to take the money away, but if there continues to be a lack of cooperation then we have to decide to take further action.”

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 again chose Maximus in this newest group of awards, and will have to go before Hevesi, or his successor, for approval.

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