Labor official resigns amid Job Corps budget problems

A top Labor Department official who acknowledged budgeting missteps while overseeing the federal Job Corps program announced Monday that she had resigned, effective at the end of May.

Jane Oates, head of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, notified employees of her decision in an e-mail that touted her accomplishments and made no mention of budget woes for the job training program.

Job Corps froze new enrollments in January after running a deficit of $60 million, but the program lifted the stoppage in April. It still plans to reduce enrollment by 20 percent, according to the National Job Corps Association, which represents the contractors that run the program’s training centers.

The association has estimated that the freeze blocked at least 10,000 prospective trainees from Job Corps and cost about 700 people their jobs at training centers.

“The most amazing part of my experience at ETA has been your willingness to examine your processes and help create change,” Oates said in her e-mail to employees.


Jane Oates, assistant secretary of the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

In 2010, the Labor Department restructured how it handles Job Corps, in part by placing budgeting and procurement operations in separate areas of the Employment and Training division instead of the Office of Job Corps. The program incurred a $30 million deficit during its next budget cycle, followed by the $60 million shortfall this year.

During a Senate hearing in March, Oates acknowledged that budgeting missteps and a lack of senior-staff accounting expertise contributed to the cost overruns. She told lawmakers that the shortfall was the result of “inadequate staffing and monitoring on the part of the Job Corps program.”

Critics contend that ETA ignored budgeting advice from vendors who run the job-training centers.

“We are hopeful that the department’s new leadership will work more collaboratively with Job Corps stakeholders to ensure vulnerable young Americans are never again unnecessarily turned away from Job Corps,” said the National Job Corps Association’s government-relations director, Anand Vimalassery.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), whose state is home to two Job Corps centers, met with labor secretary nominee Tom Perez in April to ask that he remove or suspend any officials responsible for the program’s budget problems. In a statement Wednesday, Collins spoke approvingly of Oates’s resignation, saying it “will help this program move forward.”

“It is unacceptable that these short falls resulted in furloughs and layoffs of staff, as well as a freeze on student enrollment, both of which have severely jeopardized the continued stability of Job Corps,” Collins said.

Oates’s e-mail mentioned several ETA accomplishments that occurred during her tenure, including disbursement of nearly $1 billion in Recovery Act funds; the creation of a partnership among Job Corps, IBM and Jamba Juice; and improved relations between the agency’s home and regional offices.

Labor Department spokesman Carl Fillichio declined to comment on Oates’s resignation and who might replace her, saying the agency does not discuss personnel matters.

The Labor position requires Senate confirmation, meaning the ETA is unlikely to have a replacement before a new labor secretary is approved.

Oates declined to speak with The Washington Post about her resignation, according to Fillichio. Attempts to reach her at home by phone were unsuccessful.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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