News Releases

Senators Blast Labor Department After GAO Report Shows That It Gives Earmarks Without Accountability

May 07 2008

Members of Senate Labor Panel Question Labor Secretary Chao Today

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), and Patty Murray (D-WA) today revealed the findings of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report they commissioned which showed that after seven years of providing nearly $300 million in earmarks, the Department of Labor (DoL) did not properly monitor funded activities, to assess whether the grant objectives were being met or properly evaluate them to determine whether the funded activities were effective. Senators Harkin and Murray – Chairman and member of the appropriations subcommittee on labor – will question the Bush Administration’s Secretary of the Department of Labor, Elaine Chao, at a Senate hearing this morning.

The report details that in an effort to focus more on workforce training programs that would meet the needs of high-growth and in-demand industries, DoL awarded 349 grants totaling almost $900 million under three programs the High Growth Job Training Initiative (High Growth), Community-Based Job Training Initiative (Community Based), and the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED). However, the report found that DoL will not be able to properly assess these programs’ impact because the Department did not develop performance goals and collect comparable data. Also, even though it now grants awards competitively, almost 90 percent of the High Growth grant funds were given without competition. The Democratic Congress, in their 2007 appropriations bill, required the DoL to use a competitive bid process; their 2008 bill includes a similar requirement.

Last week, Senator Harkin received an Inspector General report he commissioned that showed that President Bush’s High Growth Job Training Initiative used a non-competitive awarding process and lacked oversight in ensuring that the projects it spent millions on garnered results.

“This Administration has asked American taxpayers to trust its discretion in awarding these grants without full and open competition, and now it appears that good decisions were not made in choosing or accounting for how to best spend taxpayer dollars,” said Senator Harkin. “I learned of it in the IG’s report and now I’m seeing it again in the GAO report – dollars that were supposed to address workforce shortages and help American workers get the training they need to move up in our economy never reaped those results. I urge Secretary Chao to quickly implement all of the IG’s and GAO’s recommendations to ensure that these programs address the challenges they were intended to and that taxpayer dollars are well spent.”

“This Administration has spent nearly a billion dollars on their pet initiatives while consistently proposing cuts to core job training programs in the Workforce Investment Act,” said Senator Kennedy.  “Nearly eight years after the first High Growth grant was awarded, the Department of Labor has next to no evidence to show that these funds were spent wisely.  GAO’s report demonstrates a failure of oversight and management.”

“Preparing our workforce for the global economy is far too important to throw taxpayer money at the problem and then walk away,” said Senator Murray. “Yet this GAO report clearly shows that is what the Department of Labor has done. For an administration that claims time and again that they are “results driven”, I find it strange that DoL paid little mind to whether the objectives of these grants were being met. I hope that both the IG and GAO reports serve as a wake up call to DoL to pay greater attention to serving our workforce needs.”

The report recommends that the DoL find ways to ensure that they can properly evaluate these initiatives. It also advises the Department to develop and maintain consistent program requirements are met when awarding non-competitive grants to organizations.