By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 6, 2009
More than 200 youths who participated in D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's jobs program last year were not city residents, most claiming addresses in Maryland although a handful said they lived in Virginia or as far away as Georgia, Florida or Texas, according to a report by the city auditor.
The 203 participants were paid a total of $276,154 during the 10-week program, considered a failure of the Fenty administration after the budget swelled from $21.5 million to $55.7 million with the mayor's directive to his staff to give a job to every young person who wanted one.
The results were a series of errors and a Department of Employment Services that was unprepared for the more than 21,000 participants who flooded the program, far and above projections and the budget. Fenty fired Director Summer Spencer and recently appointed Joseph P. Walsh Jr., former director of policy and planning for labor and workforce in Massachusetts.
As Walsh prepares for the start of the program in June, city Auditor Deborah K. Nichols has delivered a 20-page report to the D.C. Council that outlines how the debacle unfolded and how much money was "wasted" by contractors who accepted payments for slots that were never filled. Walsh said he recently spoke with the auditor but disagreed with a proposal to limit the number of jobs available this summer.
"We are committed to the mayor's belief that every young person should have a job," Walsh said.
Nichols hints in her report, which was obtained by The Washington Post, that the mismanagement and misuse of funds could be even greater. To conduct the probe, her audit team used a sampling of contracts, debit card transactions and enrollment forms, among other data. More reports are expected. Nichols would not comment on the report.
Using sample invoices, Nichols found that six contractors failed to fill 291 slots, totaling $623,365. Looking at documents monitoring the contracts, three other vendors had 57 empty slots worth $70,890. "Unfortunately, the staff responsible for assigning youth to work sites did not ensure that each contractor received the minimum number of youth specified in their contracts," Nichols wrote.
That was a major misstep the administration has already acknowledged but did not quantify with a dollar amount.
The new revelation in Nichols's report is that some out-of-towners appeared to scoop up jobs meant for District youths. An additional chart by the auditor's office but not included in the report shows that 196 participants said they lived in Maryland, two in Virginia, two in Georgia, two in Florida and one in Texas. Walsh said that 200 is a small number of the overall total and that some might be wards of the state. New technology, he said, will be in place this summer to flag addresses outside the District and prevent abuse.
Nichols says in the report that Employment Services "did not restrict the registration of youth who listed an address outside of the District."
According to that department's Web site, the program is limited to D.C. residents. Local college students whose primary residence is outside the city are not allowed to participate. The Web site does not provide guidance on youths who might spend their summers with a noncustodial parent who lives in the District.
Sources close to the investigation said an additional 460 participants listed Zip codes that were unrecognizable, if not fraudulent. That information is not in the report, but those salaries totaled more than $300,000.
Nichols addresses the issue broadly in the report: "DOES had no mechanism in place to verify information supplied by youth who may have misrepresented their residency by using a District address at which they did not reside."
The agency appeared to have few controls in place to organize and manage the summer workers and how much they were paid, according to the report.
The auditor found that although 146 participants listed incomplete Social Security numbers, they were still paid a total of $210,999.
She also found 549 instances of a participant's name appearing more than once on forms, meaning that the person was likely paid double his or her salary. The problem was "not flagged for further review by DOES staff," and the agency doled out $1.7 million in those instances, according to the report.
The program apparently was doomed from the start when registration began in December 2007. The agency entered information about enrollees into a database and then implemented a new system one week before the jobs program began, according to the report. Participants registered for previous years, as far back as 1986, were included.
Nichols said management could have used paper registration documents to ferret out who was actually eligible for the 2008 program. But it did not.
"Even now, neither DOES officials nor officials in the Office of the City Administrator can confirm the number of youth who never registered for the 2008 [program] but were subsequently paid," she wrote.