A banner typed across the front page of the Job Corps website in bold red letters reads, “Attention! Job Corps is enrolling students again!”
That’s welcome news for the nearly 10,000 low-income and at-risk students who have been turned away since January, when the education and job-training program announced that because of a funding shortfall it would immediately halt enrollment.
Despite the resumption of enrollments, Job Corps remains on shaky footing. Last week, as pressure from members of Congress mounted, Jane Oates, head of the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration, resigned after acknowledging sloppy accounting and poor management at the program.
Congress is vowing to keep close tabs on Job Corps, which offers students ages 16-24 free education or training to learn a career, earn a high school diploma or equivalency degree, and find and keep a good job. Lawmakers have been grilling Labor secretary nominee Thomas E. Perez about how he would fix the problems with the program if confirmed.
Both Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who chairs a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee, and Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who chairs the Education and the Workforce Committee, have asked the Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General to investigate the funding mismanagement. The IG’s report is expected as early as this month.
The $61.5 million deficit the Job Corps posted in 2012 shocked members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, because officials at the Labor Department had assured them they were closely monitoring expenses after the program came up $39 million short the year before.
“I think there is a good bit of skepticism from this committee and among senators in both parties, because we’ve been hearing for years now that the problem is recognized and has been diagnosed and corrective action efforts are in place and that this won’t happen,” Casey said at an Employment and Workplace Safety Subcommittee hearing in March. “We thought we were there and then we hear about enrollment freezes.”
The Labor Department originally estimated that Job Corps would need to freeze enrollment until at least June 30. But the Obama administration has since freed up enough money from other employment training programs within the department to put the program back on solid financial footing. Still, many observers worry that mismanagement could persist, especially with the absence of a Labor secretary, and that the sequester could deal the program another blow.
The program has already asked its education and training centers to decrease enrollment by 20 percent for the foreseeable future, indicating that it hasn’t completely solved its budgetary issues.