Employment and Training Program Grants:

Evaluating Impact and Enhancing Monitoring Would Improve Accountability

GAO-08-486: Published: May 7, 2008. Publicly Released: May 7, 2008.

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Since 2001, Labor has spent nearly $900 million on three workforce employment and training grant initiatives: High Growth Job Training Initiative (High Growth), Community-Based Job Training Initiative (Community Based), and the Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED). GAO was asked to examine (1) the intent of the grant initiatives and the extent to which Labor will be able to assess their effects, (2) the extent to which the process used competition, was adequately documented, and included key players, and (3) what Labor is doing to monitor individual grantee compliance with grant requirements. To answer these questions, GAO obtained from Labor a list of grants for fiscal years 2001 through 2007, and reviewed relevant laws and Labor's internal grant award procedures. GAO interviewed grantees, and state and local workforce officials in seven states where grantees were located, Labor officials, and subject matter experts.

According to Labor officials, the grant initiatives were designed to shift the focus of the public workforce system toward the training and employment needs of high-growth, in-demand industries, but Labor will be challenged to assess their impact. Under the initiatives, Labor awarded 349 grants totaling almost $900 million to foster this change. However, the grant initiatives were not fully integrated into Labor's strategic plan or overall research agenda; therefore, it is unclear what criteria Labor will use to evaluate their effectiveness. Labor lacks data that will allow it to compare outcomes for grant-funded services to those of other federally funded employment and training services. While grants under all three initiatives are now awarded competitively, the initial noncompetitive process for High Growth grants was not adequately documented and did not include key players. Community Based and WIRED grants have always been awarded competitively, but more than 80 percent of High Growth grants were awarded without competition. Labor began awarding some High Growth grants competitively in 2005 and Congress required Labor to award certain grants competitively in fiscal years 2007 and 2008. This requirement applies only to those years. Labor could not document criteria used to select the noncompetitive High Growth grants or whether these grants met internal or statutory requirements. Labor has taken steps to strengthen the noncompetitive process, but these procedures do not explicitly require documentation of compliance with statutory program requirements. Labor's process for identifying solutions for industry workforce challenges did not include the vast majority of local workforce investment boards, which oversee local employment and training services. Labor provides some monitoring for grantees under all three initiatives and uses a risk-based monitoring approach for the High Growth and Community Based grants, but not for WIRED. Labor has a process to address findings from single audit reports, but its inspector general found problems with Labor's follow up on the completion of these audits for its grantees in general and recommended that Labor put procedures in place to do so. Labor provides technical assistance for the three initiatives and spent $16 million on contracts to help offer this support.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Labor continues to be unable to draw strong conclusions based on its evaluations of the three initiatives. In FY2012, Labor reported that a number of studies have been completed. Each evaluation was tailored to the initiative, and each had a different set of conditions with regard to data available for the analysis and outcomes observed. However, the types of studies Labor performed did not allow it to know program outcomes. For example, in a 2011 GAO report (GAO-11-285), we used the WIRED evaluations as an example of this. Similarly, the High Growth and Community Based evaluations, for which Labor issued final reports in 2011, for the most part, did not evaluate their impact. (High growth evaluated impact based on only a very few grants that had sufficient participants to ensure a statistically valid evaluation.) Labor reported that they learned several key lessons that are shared across the evaluations of the three initiatives, which are summarized in the June 2010 HGJTI report (released in 2011). Although these lessons may help Labor better evaluate future initiatives, the agency was unable to ensure that it could evaluate the impact of the initiative so that it could draw strong conclusions based on its evaluations.

    Recommendation: To determine the impact of the three grant initiatives, ensure that the best possible projects are selected, and improve accountability of grant funds, the Secretary of Labor should take steps to ensure that the department can evaluate the impact of the initiatives so that it can draw strong conclusions based on its evaluations, such as following through with plans to collect consistent data, integrating the initiatives into its overall research agenda with relevant performance goals and indicators, and including these initiatives in its assessment of the impact of Workforce Investment Act services.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2008, Labor reported that the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) had modified its "Sole Source Grants Office Check List" and "Unsolicited Proposal Sole Source Review Form" to include statutory program requirements sections. The agency provided forms that require ETA staff to confirm that proposed noncompetitive grants are in compliance with relevant statutory program requirements--specifically (1) the authorizing act, such as WIA, that permits the issuing of such grants, (2) the appropriations act that provided the financial resources to fund the grant, and (3) any pertinent Congressional report language that provides further guidance or clarification of Congressional intent. These additional requirements will help ensure that ETA's noncompetitive grants comply with relevant statutory requirements.

    Recommendation: To determine the impact of the three grant initiatives, ensure that the best possible projects are selected, and improve accountability of grant funds, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Employment and Training Administration to identify the statutory program requirements for which compliance must be documented when awarding noncompetitive grants.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2008, Labor stated that the agency had developed a monitoring guide for Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) grants, was developing a schedule for monitoring, and had trained four monitoring teams. In September 2008, Labor provided its monitoring schedule and guide and stated that it had monitored eight out of the initial set of 13 WIRED grantees. This new monitoring system will help ensure that Labor's grantees are held accountable and attain their performance goals.

    Recommendation: To determine the impact of the three grant initiatives, ensure that the best possible projects are selected, and improve accountability of grant funds, the Secretary of Labor should develop and implement a risk-based monitoring approach for WIRED and a schedule for its use.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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