The Edmond Sun

Local News

July 25, 2012

Coburn releases job-training report

MUSKOGEE — TO READ U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn's report, go to:

A report released Tuesday by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn examining federal job-training programs in Oklahoma was met with mixed results from some of those who administer them.

Coburn’s report is based upon a yearlong examination of job-training programs in Oklahoma. The study involved 70 interviews and meetings with program officials across the state.

The study acknowledges successful state programs like CareerTech and Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services. But for the most part, Coburn said it confirms what the Government Accountability Office revealed more than a year ago.

“Taxpayers are spending billions of dollars employing people in job-training programs instead of training unemployed workers for jobs,” Coburn said in a statement released in conjunction with the study. “Taxpayers should be appalled Congress has done nothing to reform these programs for more than 18 months.”

Nanette Robertson, executive director for Eastern Workforce Investment Board in Muskogee, said there are some aspects of Coburn’s report with which she agrees. But Robertson expressed some doubt about findings that purport to show more money is being spent administering programs than providing job training.

Coburn’s report, entitled “What Works (and What Doesn’t): The Good, Bad and Ugly of Federal Job Training in Oklahoma,” references the budget of Southeast Workforce Investment Board. According to documents included in the study, the now defunct program allocated just 14 cents of every dollar for actual job-training services.

The report also states the program Robertson oversees spends 40 percent of its budget on client services. Robertson said Coburn’s numbers fail to account for some of the services provided.

“When you include case management and direct services, we spend about 73 percent of our budget on job-training services,” Robertson said. “About 10 percent of our budget is spent on (administrative) operations.”

With regard to the duplication of services and program overlap, Robertson said rules dictate eligibility requirements for the various programs. Duplication of services occurs because some clients meet the eligibility requirements for more than one program.

Coburn’s study suggests the duplication of services results with wasteful spending. But Robertson said it would cost nearly the same amount of money to fund one program designed to train every unemployed, underemployed or displaced worker who needs it.

“We would like to operate without these mandates — we could streamline services — but in order to receive money, we have to abide by the rules,” said Robertson, whose program serves about 35,000 people annually. “We are serving as many people as we can. We are required to do things that keep us from maximizing our services.”

Robertson’s assessment mirrors concerns included in Coburn’s critiques. One, in particular, includes the Muskogee senator’s conclusion that job-training programs should be administered by the states.

“The report also shows that states are vastly more capable of managing job-training programs than the federal government,” Coburn said. “In Oklahoma and across America, program administrators and job-seekers are trapped in a system that simply does not work.”

Lee Ann Langston, project director of Eastern Oklahoma Workforce Investment Act and a Muskogee city councilor, rejected Coburn’s assessment.

“I will stand up for this program until doomsday,” Langston said, citing the program’s efforts to help the area’s chronically unemployed and underemployed. “We change lives on a daily basis, and people who don’t see that don’t understand what we do.”

Robertson, who has worked her way up from a program participant to its executive director, echoed Langston’s remarks.

“I know a lot of people have been helped,” Robertson said. “I am one of them.”

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