Lax D.C. Oversight Of Jobs Program Let Costs Skyrocket

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 17, 2008; Page A01

Over 10 weeks this summer, 53 city youths in Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's jobs program worked for the D.C. Aerospace Academy. They had dream jobs, including trips to Kansas to take flying lessons in single-engine Cessnas, and each student was paid about $1,800.

The academy did even better. Robert Newkirk, who administered the flight school, took in more than half a million dollars from the District in administrative fees -- $9,755 for each student.

As District officials continue to review what went wrong with a jobs program that overspent its budget by $30 million, a Washington Post examination has found that the city's willingness to pay private organizations thousands of dollars in fees for each student contributed to the overspending.

Overwhelmed by 20,000 job-seekers, the D.C. Department of Employment Services agreed, sometimes frantically, to pay 35 vendors to work with them. City officials ignored a cost limit imposed in past years and failed to monitor how the money was spent, according to The Post's review.

Vendors took advantage of the lack of oversight; some charged more than their contracts allowed and others made changes to their service agreements. A dance company, for example, billed the city $4,150 per student to teach ballet and modern dance, four times the amount agreed upon in the contract. And a nonprofit group collected its full payment of $180,000 even though it fired several tutors and academic coaches.

In all, the District forked over $10 million to vendors to oversee one-third of the students in the summer program. (The rest were placed free of charge at District and federal agencies and nonprofit and community-based organizations.)

"This was absolutely appalling. This whole program was out of control," said D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large)."I want to have good experiences for the kids, but they do not have to be this expensive."

Fenty (D) fired Summer Spencer, the employment agency's director, in August and pledged to fix the problems. But the breakdown has been held up by council members and activists as an indictment of Fenty's management style, which they say emphasizes moving quickly at the expense of rigorous planning and oversight.

Last summer, enrollment soared beyond projections by 5,000 students after Fenty promised jobs to all comers. The agency lost track of their work schedules, and the mayor ordered that all students be paid maximum salaries, driving up costs.

The program has been the hard-charging administration's biggest embarrassment.

"We took an existing program and tried to double it and double it again in the last two years, and I don't think we took enough time . . . understanding what the foundation of this program was," City Administrator Dan Tangherlini said. "So many people showed up, the interest was so high, I think judgments were made that in retrospect were the wrong ones."

For years, the District has been paying vendors to give students a mix of office jobs, work-training programs and academic enrichment activities. The practice contrasts sharply with job programs in other cities, including Boston and Baltimore, which do not subsidize employers.

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