Overspending, 'Haphazard' Plan Cited in Youth Jobs Program

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, top, came under fire from the inspector general, Charles Willoughby, for failings in a summer youth jobs program.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, top, came under fire from the inspector general, Charles Willoughby, for failings in a summer youth jobs program. (James M Thresher - Twp)
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By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 19, 2008

D.C. Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby laid out a litany of failings of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's summer youth jobs program yesterday, calling planning "haphazard and ad hoc" and saying a "chaotic environment" led the administration to overspend its budget by $30 million.

During a hearing before a D.C. Council committee, Willoughby cited missteps involving contracts, technology, training and budgeting in the Department of Employment Services, as well as policy decisions by Fenty, who sought to expand participation in the summer program rapidly.

Among Willoughby's findings: Contracts between the city and companies that hired students were not put in place until after the program began in June; a system to track participants and work hours was installed just two weeks before the start date, leaving no time for testing and training; and, without adequate training, the staff never entered all the data into the computer system.

Fees paid to contractors willing to employ students were "exorbitant," Willoughby said, ranging as high as $6,600.

The Fenty administration, unable to determine how many hours students worked, eventually ordered that all participants be paid the maximum amount, Willoughby said. His office has accounted for $39 million spent on the program, Willoughby added, but is still trying to figure how the administration spent another $10 million.

Most students were placed at government agencies and nonprofit companies. But D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols, who spoke after Willoughby, said youths were "paid whether they worked or not or were even assigned to a job site" and that some "were paid to sit in place for one or more days without performing any work."

"Your preliminary findings seem like an indictment of every area of the program," said council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), chairman of the Committee on Workforce Development and Government Operations.

The findings by Willoughby and Nichols corroborated media reports and an internal investigation by Fenty aides. It determined that the employment agency was unprepared for the crush of applicants after the mayor ordered the program open to all students seeking work.

More than 21,000 students enrolled, up from 12,000 the previous year, and the agency, which had initially budgeted $20 million, ultimately spent nearly $50 million on the 10-week program. The breakdown has been one of the major blemishes of Fenty's 1 1/2 years in office.

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who had expanded the summer program while he was mayor, issued a statement calling on Fenty to "apologize directly to the citizens . . . for allowing such gross negligence to take place."

Several students and community activists testified before the council yesterday, including Margaret Parker, a student who said she tried to register three times but still had not been assigned a place to report when the program began.

"It's a good program, but it needs a lot more organization," Parker said.

City Administrator Dan Tangherlini acknowledged the shortcomings but noted that the agency's managers did not sound alarms with the mayor's office until after the program began.

"At no point did [the Department of Employment Services] seek out or request assistance, raise serious concerns, or provide information that would suggest that the program was headed into complete disarray," he said. "Even within DOES, our research suggests that not all information was sent up the chain of command that would allow its management to properly assess challenges."

Pressed by the council, however, Tangherlini said: "I didn't see it. I made a mistake."

Last month, Fenty forced the resignation of employment agency director Summer Spencer, whom he had appointed in 2007. The mayor's office, after determining that ineligible students were being paid, weeded out the payroll in the final few weeks of the program, which ended on Labor Day.

Tangherlini said the problems with the program could set the administration back in its goal to provide work to more students.

"The numerous articles, the continued reference to problems of the program, suggest anyone who has not participated in the past would not want to start," Tangherlini said. "And the companies that had a bad experience might not want to participate again. That's a hole we have to dig ourselves out of."

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