Lisa Spriggs, center, grows frustrated during a session at a D.C. community center concerning those with criminal charges who are trying to find jobs. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

A new report suggests that Mayor Vincent C. Gray has significant work left to do on perhaps his top political priority — getting District residents back to work.

The city’s five “American Job Centers,” formerly known as “one-stop” career centers, need better standards and more accountability to be effective, a joint study by D.C. Appleseed and the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute has concluded. The centers are the primary interface between unemployed District residents and the federal and local government programs intended to help them.

Historically, the report says, the District has lagged most states in measures of workforce development performance. Improving the one-stop system through better local oversight — in particular, a federally defined process of “certification” — could help drive better outcomes, the study suggests.

Because the U.S. Department of Labor found the District out of compliance with its oversight requirements in 2009, the city’s Workforce Investment Council is now developing a new certification process. D.C. Appleseed and DCFPI are urging the District to focus on giving the centers a clear and uniform mission and providing more rigorous oversight.

Employment Services Director Lisa M. Mallory said in a statement that her department is “striving to have one of the most improved systems in the country within a year.”

The District’s unemployment rate in February was 8.6 percent, unchanged from the previous month.