- The Washington Times - Friday, September 19, 2008

Two independent D.C. officials delivered laundry lists of management problems in the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program before the D.C. Council on Thursday as members tried to flush out the myriad failures that hampered the program this summer.

“[The D.C. Department of Employment Services] lost control of the program,” said D.C. Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby, reading a summary of preliminary findings. “Consequently, mass confusion occurred.”

D.C. Auditor Deborah K. Nichols, who coordinated with Mr. Willoughby’s office, gave a similarly grim assessment, saying her investigation “revealed a number of significant deficiencies.”

Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, scheduled the hearing before the council’s Committee on Workforce Development and Government operations after the program ran $37 million over budget this summer.

Mr. Willoughby said his investigation uncovered problems in internal management controls, contracting with job providers, the payment process as well as miscellaneous issues.

Among the issues, Mr. Willoughby found that the employment department could not accurately track participants in the program, had poor control over access to debit cards that were used to pay students and had to continually update a computer system used to keep track of participants that was put in place two weeks before the program started in June.

Over several minutes of testimony, Mr. Willoughby listed dozens of problems, many of which were also cited by Mrs. Nichols. The all-encompassing nature of the shortcomings elicited surprise from Mrs. Schwartz.

“Your preliminary observations seem like an indictment of every area of the program,” Mrs. Schwartz said.

That assessment confirms many points made in an analysis by CapStat head Kevin Donahue in August.

The findings were preceded by hours of similarly negative testimony from several job providers, community activists and residents, who gave detailed accounts of the program’s failings.

Several witness confirmed early reports from D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s administration that students who worked were being paid late, in incorrect amounts or not at all while some students who never showed up were paid.

Ward 5 resident and community activist Robert Vincent Brannum said his son signed up for the program and was paid despite never being assigned a job site.

Another public witness said her son was paid late and was given duplicate checks for single pay periods.

“This is the worst mismanagement I’ve seen in 29 years,” said council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, who created the program as mayor in 1979.

Ward 4 Education Council Chairwoman Cherita Whiting said that her son was not paid on time several times and that she received a large volume of calls from other residents in the ward until as recently as last Friday.

“Someone who knows what they are doing should be in charge of running this program because you have parents that worked in this program when there were no problems and now their children are in the same program, but can’t get paid,” Mrs. Whiting said.

City Administrator Dan Tangherlini testified that problems were caused in part by the administration’s decision to take on all qualified applicants.

“We wanted to make sure we didn’t leave any kid behind,” Mr. Tangherlini said. “Some of the youths that come out at the last minute need the jobs the most.”

Mrs. Schwartz criticized the decision, saying officials should be mindful that the city has finite resources.

The investigation was launched after the program’s first payday in June when widespread problems were being reported by participants and job providers.

The early findings prompted Mr. Fenty to request the additional funding from the District’s emergency contingency fund July 30 to cover the program’s $37 million overrun.

Mr. Tangherlini said in August that many of the cost overruns were caused by Mr. Fenty’s decision to provide a job for any eligible resident and the consequent elimination of the registration deadline.

This year, the city registered more than 21,000 youths compared with 12,629 last year. The projected enrollment was 15,000.

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