District youth job training in turmoil after contracts abruptly pulled

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2011; 10:04 PM

A major city effort to teach District youths employment skills is in turmoil after contracts totaling about $4 million in local and federal funds were abruptly cancelled Friday.

In December, the city's procurement office awarded contracts to 10 groups to provide year-round job training to 670 youths, many of whom are not enrolled in school.

Work began Jan. 1 under the contracts. But, with no warning, the city told the groups Friday to stop work and reapply for the contracts.

"It's such a mess. I'm so disgusted," said Lori M. Kaplan, executive director of the Latin American Youth Center, which had been granted more than $625,000 in contracts to serve 100 youth. Kaplan said she'd be forced to lay off as many as 10 employees.

Letters from the District government informed the contractors that the cancellation was "solely due to concerns surrounding the procurement process" and ordered them to stop all work by 5 p.m. Friday.

The concerns began after a losing bidder appealed the December procurement, which led to "a further review of the contract documentation," said Brendon Miller, a spokesman for the Office of Contracting and Procurement. The city employee who handled the award process left her job in recent weeks, he said, and paperwork necessary to defend the awards could not be located.

The letters indicate that a new bidding process will begin within 60 days, "with an anticipation of award of new contracts" by the end of June.

"That's just too long," said Celine Fejeran, a policy analyst for the Alliance of Youth Advocates, an umbrella group that represents several of the affected service providers.

Delaying the program would be "devastating," said Sean Segal, operations director for the Urban Alliance Foundation, a provider that had been slated to receive about $205,000. "That's basically a whole school year lost," he said.

Citywide unemployment has hovered near 10 percent in recent months, and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) was elected on a platform of improving employment services, in part by expanding the city's year-round job training programs for youths. The recent contracts were awarded under his predecessor, Adrian M. Fenty (D), who emphasized summer-only job programs.

Kaplan challenged Gray and the city's Employment Services department to quickly restore the contracts.

"This is federal money that . . . is just sitting there, and if they don't get it out the door, 50 or 100 kids aren't getting job training," she said. "We competed fairly and squarely. . . . It's really outrageous."

Miller said Friday evening that expediting a rebid was a "top priority" for the procurement office and said the city agencies would work with the providers to "ensure that the disruption is as minimal as possible."

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