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Evaluation of Bush era jobs programs delayed until spring.

WASHINGTON -- Job training programs initiated by the Bush Administration will be evaluated alter President Bush leaves office in January.

The Employment and Training Administration has responded to criticism that it lacked a plan to evaluate the programs, but it remains unclear if all of ETA's moves will adequately assess the programs, according to testimony at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Subcommittee on Employment & Workplace Safety.

ETA has spent nearly $900 million on three initiatives designed to shift federal job training efforts to high-growth, high-demand fields: the High-Growth Job Training Initiative, Community-Based Job Training Initiative and Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED).

But in two reports issued last spring, the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Labor and the Government Accountability Office both charged that ETA had not developed an effective strategy for evaluating the programs or integrating them into the Department of Labor's overall job training plan.

George Scott, director of education, workforce and income security issues at the GAO, testified that in response to GAO's criticism, ETA had started documenting how it chose High Growth grantees. GAO had found that ETA was selecting most of them non-competitively and did not explain why and whether it was selecting them in compliance with the law.

ETA officials have said they now ensure that when grantees are selected non-competitively, the projects support at least one of the program's strategic goals. Grant officers now must also complete forms showing that they have followed proper procedures and obtained required reviews and approvals.

ETA also started risk-based monitoring of WIRED grantees in response to GAO's recommendation. Scott said that GAO had not evaluated ETA's recent actions.

The inspector general's office plans to evaluate these changes as soon as it receives data about it from ETA, testified Elliot Lewis, assistant inspector general for audit. He added that ETA had taken steps to encourage competition and avoid conflicts of interest.

But Scott said GAO could not find any progress in ETA's ability to evaluate the programs.

"Labor's response to our recommendation suggests that conditions remain much as they were when we did our edit work," Scott told the subcommittee.

Scott concluded that "Labor has some plans under way to evaluate the initiatives but may face challenges drawing strong conclusions from them." The department had planned to issue a report on High Growth grantees in December, but pushed the release date back to next spring.

Labor's evaluation ran into a few snafus: only six of 166 grantees, for instance, trained enough participants to allow a statistically, significant evaluation. The department's investigators also could not get sufficient information on trainees' earnings data. In addition, grantees reported outcomes differently, he said.

Labor said it plans to conduct a two-phase evaluation of the Community-Based Jobs Program. This fall, it will explore how well grantees addressed their objectives and the roles of the business community and workforce investment system. Depending on how that goes, Labor plans to evaluate the program's impact next year.

The department also has hired outside firms to conduct two evaluations of WIRED, the first one due in June 2010.
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Title Annotation:dateline Washington
Author:Pekow, Charles
Publication:Community College Week
Date:Oct 20, 2008
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