District Tries to Avoid Repeat of Summer Jobs Debacle With Online Registration, Timecards

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, with council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), faced questions on the program last summer.
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, with council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), faced questions on the program last summer. (2008 Photo By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
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By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2009

District youths who participate in Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's summer jobs program this year will have to register online and fill out electronic timecards every day in a major overhaul of the program.

The changes are in response to last year's program, which turned into a debacle with organizational problems and cost overruns of more than $34 million.

Fenty (D) and Joseph P. Walsh Jr., the new director of the Department of Employment Services, announced changes yesterday at Ballou Senior High School, where they promoted the online registration system and next week's Summer Youth Job Expo. It will run March 25 and 26 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where computers will be available for registration.

Last summer, the city paid thousands of young people who were ineligible or who did not report to work. Problems with a computer system also resulted in paychecks going to participants from previous years. A recent report from D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols says city officials do not know how many young people who never registered or worked were paid.

In an interview, Walsh said his agency is focused on avoiding the missteps that led the program to spend more than $55 million last year. He said that he did not have an exact budget yet for this year but that salaries will be capped at $33 million for an anticipated 22,000 participants.

The computerized timecards, payroll and registration are key components, Walsh said, and will enable the city to track nonresidents who are ineligible. He said his agency has found that many of last year's participants who had addresses outside the city were D.C. foster children and so were eligible.

"We're going to have a special registration for them," Walsh said.

The city also will be less dependent on contractors this year, he said. Last summer, the city spent more than $10 million to place about 7,500 students with mostly nonprofit groups. Contractors are submitting proposals again, but Walsh said, "We've made it very, very clear . . . we may not issue a single" contract.

If the city decides to work with contractors, they will fill no more than 1,500 jobs, Walsh added.

Nichols's report outlines how contractors failed to fill about 350 slots, "wasting" nearly $700,000. One contractor, Coalition for Economic Empowerment, disputes the report's conclusion that it employed just 51 participants. Executive Director Susan Hoskins said the nonprofit group employed 237 youths. Nichols said that her office is reviewing all contracts again and that the Department of Employment Services kept poor records.

When the city was scrambling last summer to find work for participants, the Department of Employment Services simply created more contracts, which added to the confusion, Walsh said. This year, he said, the city will instead expand the mayor's conservation program, which will put participants to work in their neighborhoods on graffiti removal, park renovations and cleanup.

Participants must be District residents ages 14 to 21.

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