By David Nakamura and Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty forced the resignation yesterday of a top aide in charge of the city's troubled summer youth jobs program, saying the administration accepts "full responsibility" for the widespread problems that led to a $31 million cost overrun.
Summer Spencer, who was hired last year to be director of the Department of Employment Services, will leave her post at the close of the jobs program early next month, Fenty said.
The move came as the mayor released results of an internal investigation that found that the city was paying thousands of students who did not report to work, were fired or were ineligible. About 200 participants do not live in the city, and 104 are not within the 14- to 21-year-old age guidelines, including a few who are older than 50, the report says.
In all, the District could spend $52 million this summer on a program that nearly doubled in size, to more than 21,000 students, after Fenty ordered Spencer to open up enrollment to all comers. The program's management problems represent one of the biggest stumbles of Fenty's administration.
"I should have known earlier. More should have been done earlier," Fenty said. "We accept full responsibility. . . . I am personally at fault for these management issues."
Fenty (D) defended his open enrollment policy, although the program initially had a fixed budget of $21 million for a projected enrollment of 15,000. The administration sought an additional $11 million in early July and then $20 million more in emergency funds a few weeks later.
Fenty said the mismanagement of students after they signed up was a bigger problem than the open enrollment policy. He added that students are allowed to sign up for the final few weeks of the program.
"Anyone who wants to go to school goes to school, but we know how to budget that," Fenty said. He said the administration will have to reexamine next summer's program budget of $24 million.
The internal review found that millions of dollars in contracts with employers were finalized in the weeks leading up to the opening and that 5,000 students did not know where to report on the first day. Students who participated last year but not this year were still on the payroll, and most participants were paid the maximum weekly salaries even if they did not show up for work, according to the report.
"Managers did not adequately challenge assumptions or demand their verification with data," the report states. "Statements and explanations were too often taken at face value."
Kevin Donahue, a Fenty aide who oversaw the investigation, said officials "did not know who was in the program, where they worked or how many hours they worked and what they were being paid."
Furthermore, in the week before the program started June 16, Employment Services decided to pay 2,300 students attending summer school to discourage them from quitting school in favor of paid work in the jobs program, the report says. Also that week, the department replaced its payroll system, leaving little time to test it or to train agency employees and students' employers on how to use it.
Victoria Cunningham, policy director for the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, a group of nonprofit organizations that accept youth workers, complained last week that the groups were having trouble working with the city.
The mayor's report "just confirms what we were already thinking," she said yesterday. "It would have been better if some of this kind of analysis had been going along the whole time."
Donahue said about 5,000 students have been removed from the program, leaving about 16,000 still enrolled. Further adjustments will be made as more data are examined, and the payroll probably will decrease in the final few weeks, he said.
Once the problems were known, in the middle of last month, the administration "underestimated the complexity" of correcting them, Donahue said.
Donahue said that in the months before the jobs program opened, he and City Administrator Dan Tangherlini got together with Spencer and her staff at meetings intended to promote accountability.
But Spencer did not raise red flags during those sessions, Donahue said, and administration officials did not dig deeply because the program went smoothly last year. Since the problems came to light last month, Tangherlini said, he has had most of his staff working to fix the problems.
Spencer did not return calls for comment, and the Fenty administration has not allowed her to speak to media since the pay problems emerged last month.
Fenty promised to deliver the internal report, with supporting documents, to the D.C. auditor and inspector general, who are conducting a joint probe at the request of the D.C. Council.
Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who has criticized Fenty's management of the program, commended the mayor for releasing the report. Barry started the program in his first term as mayor 29 years ago.
"I'm sure by next summer all the bugs will be worked out," he said.
Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said he will hold an oversight hearing on the jobs program Sept. 18. "We'll continue on with our efforts with the inspector general and the auditor so that we can see the full extent of what went wrong," Gray said.
Tené Dolphin, Fenty's chief of staff, has been named interim director to replace Spencer, and Fenty spokeswoman Carrie Brooks will replace Dolphin, officials said.