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District officials criticize Fenty's management of summer jobs program

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By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

D.C. Council members and the city's auditor sharply criticized Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's management of the city's summer jobs program Monday, and some said they did not support extending it for seven working days, as the mayor has requested.

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District Auditor Deborah K. Nichols testified Monday at an oversight session that those administering the youth employment program had demonstrated a pattern of "reckless disregard" for funding limits put on the program. Years of poor fiscal discipline in the jobs program have posed "a threat to other vital District programs and the District's fiscal stability in these austere economic times," Nichols said.

Council members said the Fenty administration took money needed by other impoverished residents, particularly the city's homeless, and used it for summer jobs instead. And they said Fenty (D) shifted funds without informing the council. The council had limited the program to six weeks and a budget of $22.7 million.

"You had a program, and you were going ahead with that program and that was the end of it," council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) told the director of the Department of Employment Services, Joseph P. Walsh, during a heated meeting.

Walsh acknowledged that administration officials were eager to find additional money for the program. Walsh said officials aggressively sought to tap federal stimulus dollars, which came through in the spring.

"It is without a doubt, we received additional funds beyond what the council gave us. That's true," he said.

Under questioning, Walsh apologized to council member Michael A. Brown (IAt Large), chairman of the oversight session, for not communicating the administration's plans sooner. In his defense, Walsh said, "my head was down trying to actually run this program."

Walsh said the jobs program had addressed shortcomings identified in the past by city auditors.

Council members also expressed frustration that they were not warned earlier by financial officials that the youth employment effort was slated to come in millions of dollars beyond its original budget. The program has $34.2 million, enough to cover Fenty's proposal to extend the program to seven weeks and two days, according to an analysis by Natwar Gandhi, the city's chief financial officer.

To help make up the difference between the council's appropriation and Fenty's more expensive program, the administration moved $8.5 million from a federal poverty program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It was a special pot of the TANF funds that came from the federal stimulus, officials said.

Brown said he will push for a legislative fix requiring Gandhi's office to alert the council when council-established budgets are altered, as in this case.

Brown said a Fenty administration official had indicated that some of the stimulus-related TANF funds would go to cover the growing needs of the city's homeless population, but now funds have been shifted away to the summer-jobs effort.

Advocates for the homeless said they already faced a shortfall of millions of dollars before the $8.5 million was transferred from the Department of Human Services to the summer program.

Human Services "does not have sufficient resources to meet the needs of the most impoverished residents of the District," according to testimony from the group So Others Might Eat. "More than 500 families applied for shelter in April-June 2010, a 31 percent increase from the year before."

The council is set to take up Fenty's request for a program extension Tuesday.

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