Program Erred Badly in Projecting Payroll

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) says this is the youth job program's
Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) says this is the youth job program's "most mismanaged" year. (By Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
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By Michael Birnbaum and David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 7, 2008

The District's troubled summer youth program overran its budget by more than $30 million at least in part because its planning methods wildly underestimated how much would be needed to meet payroll.

Estimates were based on 15,000 students being paid $5.85 an hour, with the expectation that about a third of the students would leave the program by summer's end, as happened last year, according to a source familiar with the budget procedures who asked not to be named because the source was not authorized to discuss the matter. But minimum wage rose to $6.55 July 24, which was not factored into the estimates, nor was a higher pay rate of up to $10 an hour for college students and more skilled jobs.

The cap of 15,000 students was also disregarded, the source said. When that many students signed up by the April deadline, Department of Employment Services workers were instructed by the Fenty administration to enroll whoever sought work. On the first payday, July 1, 19,482 students were paid, according to a document The Washington Post has obtained.

And registrations didn't stop with the beginning of the program. In the second pay period, 20,149 students were paid. On the third payday -- just last week -- 21,018 were paid, surpassing by thousands the numbers the administration has previously acknowledged to be in the program. In all, the city has shelled out $17.2 million in pay over the first five weeks of the program, according to the documents.

"This program is 29 years old," said D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who started the program in his first year as mayor. "From all accounts . . . this year is the most mismanaged programmatically and financially in the history of this program."

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said he is asking the offices of the inspector general and the auditor to work together on an investigation to avoid "a duplication of efforts." He wrote a letter to the mayor Tuesday asking for an explanation of the budget overruns.

He said he remained dumbfounded by the overspending. "There are just so many facets to it. Kids who didn't get paid. . . . Kids who got paid who didn't work. Kids who may not live in the city," Gray said. "We have a program that was grossly mismanaged."

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) has instructed aide Kevin Donahue, director of the CapStat program that reviews city agencies, to produce a report on what went wrong. That document will be released to the public when Fenty returns Tuesday from a personal trip to the Beijing Olympics, mayoral aides said. With City Administrator Dan Tangherlini also on vacation, the mayor's chief of staff, Tene Dolphin, has been involved in trying to clean up the problems.

The issues are so widespread and intertwined that the administration is not certain of the full extent of the problems, said government sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is not complete.

According to the sources, the initial review has uncovered numerous problems in the employment agency's management of the program: Registration of young people was so sloppy that it wasn't clear how many had signed up; contracts with employers were not in place on time for the start of the program; and a computer payroll system installed this year was full of glitches.

Those problems all contributed to the budget overrun, the sources said. The administration assumed that a large number of students would drop out of the program as the summer progressed. Instead, the computer system and Department of Employment Services employees were unable to determine whether and when students failed to report to work.

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

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