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Hazards endanger students at Job Corps facilities, says OIG

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The Labor Department's Job Corps  program is exposing students and staff to health and safety hazards by not repairing maintenance deficiencies in a timely manner, says Labor's office of inspector general in a report contested by  department officials.

More than 57 percent of the 1,405 critical hazards identified by OIG were left unrepaired for more than a year.

In a Dec. 7 report (.pdf), OIG reviewed facilities from fiscal 2009 through fiscal 2011 and says critical hazards were found at 6 percent of Job Corps's 3,800 buildings and structures. More than 200 of the identified critical hazards were still not repaired as of the end of fiscal 2011, the timeframe the report covers, and 605 of the repairs made took an average of 2.4 years to complete.

Job Corps facilities are used by more than 60,000 students and 16,000 staff members each year.

The report says that 718 other maintenance deficiencies at Job Corps centers were funded for repair but not actually repaired for more than a year, costing more than $29.5 million in delays. Job Corps estimates it would "cost $96.1 million to return all of its constructed assets to an acceptable condition."

The OIG review also identified $32.9 million in repairs that had been funded for more than one year, but had not been performed or took more than one year to finish. "This included rusty support beams and leaning power poles whose repairs were still outstanding more than four years after they were funded," says the report.

These conditions occur because Job Corps does not have "an effective process to ensure maintenance deficiencies were addressed appropriately and timely," and does not place "sufficient emphasis on tracking and monitoring the status of obligated funds," says the report.

OIG recommends that the assistant secretary for employment and training require the Job Corps to improve its tracking and status monitoring efforts for funds obligated for repairs; development a maintenance management program; timely use or return funds obligated for repairs; and develop a system to accurately report its maintenance and repair costs so it can better estimate future needs.

Jane Oates, the assistant secretary for employment and training at Labor, said the Employment and Training Administration largely disagrees with the OIG audit and its conclusions. The report did not take into account some factors in center operations and says the report did not thoroughly investigate the deficiencies it calls out, Oates says.

For the fiscal 2009 to 2011 period, ETA says it repaired "thousands of deficiencies, including nearly 1,000 shovel-ready construction projects" that OIG did not consider. Oates also said some specific hazards called out by the report had been corrected during the audit period.

The one year timeframe may not always apply to construction work, says ETA, specifically in conditions where projects would require Environmental Protection Agency or other agency approval, and when time constraints are present, like postponing heating unit overhauls until winter's end.

Oates did acknowledge that the reporting system for maintenance projects is not quick enough, adding that some issues called out by the report were resolved in less than a year but took much longer than that to be entered into its records.

She also disagreed with almost all financial estimates in the report, stating that auditors don't provide the fund years it used to calculate expired money, did not properly identify cancelled and expired funds, and don't explain how they aggregated the data.

For more:
- download the report, 26-13-002-03-370 (.pdf)

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