Still waiting to learn about WIA

So, remember back in June when the Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee was supposed to get a report about what goes on with the millions of dollars of we get through the Workforce Investment Act?

Back then, the Committee couldn’t discuss the issue as scheduled because staff failed to submit a report on the issue. When asked why there was no report, then-acting Community and Economic Development Agency Director Dan Lindheim helpfully informed the Committee that “There’s no report because there’s no report written.” When pressed further about why no report had been written, Lindheim added “I can answer that in about three different ways, none of which are going to be satisfactory to you.” The Committee then rescheduled the item for their first post-recess meeting, to which Lindheim responded that they could schedule the item for whenever they wanted, but he wasn’t going to write a report by that date.

So the first post-recess CED Committee happened on Tuesday, and I bet you’ve been on the edge of your seat wondering whether they ended up discussing the issue or not. They didn’t.

The whole thing was bizarre. So, there was, at least, a report (PDF) this time. I, personally, found the report really odd and difficult to understand. I thought that maybe the problem was with me, though. Maybe the West Nile Virus I seem to have picked up on vacation was hurting my reading comprehension capacity or something. So then I sent it to two of the smartest people I know and asked them what they thought, and both agreed that the report was weird. One agreeing with my own assessment, suggested “it’s written to be deliberately confusing and unreadable.” The other said he doubted it was bad on purpose, just very hastily and poorly prepared.

Anyway, so since I didn’t really understand the report, I was really looking forward to hearing the discussion about it at CED, hoping things would get cleared up there. But nope. When the item came up, Dellums’s Deputy Chief of Staff Leslie Littleton stood up at the podium, which struck me as really odd, since I thought the information was supposed to come from CEDA (The Workforce Development Department is a division of the Community and Economic Development Agency). So then Jane Brunner is all “Did you write this report?” And she’s all “No.” Then Lindheim explains that the report was prepared by someone else who was contracted by the Mayor’s office, but that that person couldn’t, for reasons I didn’t understand, speak to the City Council. All this was news to Brunner, who said that she had spoken with the Mayor’s Intergovernmental Affairs staff about the issue the previous day, and they had apparently forgotten to mention that the author of the report wouldn’t be presenting it to them.

There was some more confusing talk, and the Committee ended up having to reschedule the item again, for their next meeting, on October 14th. Anyway, I explain all this just to point out that we’re talking about an awful lot of money that’s getting spent with no oversight or accountability. Even when the Council tries to exercise oversight, they’re thwarted in their attempts by the bureaucracy and the Mayor. Nice.

11 thoughts on “Still waiting to learn about WIA

  1. 94610BizMan

    “what goes on with the millions of dollars of we get through the Workforce Investment Act?
    After reading the report it seems to be only census, demographics, counts, etc of the “Goes Into” the program and “Comes out of” the program. No flow of funds or financial analysis although one page does refer to financial evaluation of outcomes as something else that should be done.

    Big dense report that some consultant got paid well to write so staff can claim there is oversight without financial oversight or accountability. Once you get over looking for concrete financial oversight or accountability this report is no more confusing than any census style report.

    As to “an awful lot of money that’s getting spent with no oversight or accountability” this report seems to be a feature and not a bug.

  2. Pedro Toledo

    As the person in charge of reporting to the State and others on the programs funded by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) in Oakland I do empathize with the confusion regarding the report (or lack of) discussion, and the report itself as posted on the City’s website. I do not know what happened in the process, but I do know that the Oakland recipients of the funds are doing an excellent job, particularly if you take into consideration the state of the economy and whatever else you’ve written about.

    WIA funds are perhaps the most scrutinized funds received by Oakland. The State monitors fund recipients twice a year; service activity and fiscal reports are sent to the State on a monthly basis, the service providers receive monthly reports to reconcile their data with the data submitted to the State; and we need to provide access to both program and fiscal records to local, State or Federal governmental bodies at any time. And no disallowance of funds has ever occurred!

    As for the programs benefiting from those funds, if you want to know what services are provided and by whom, I would recommend that you visit the Oakland WIB website (www.oaklandwib.org) and click on the different links below the “Getting a Job in Oakland.” The site (maintained by the City) is a little out of date (for example, the English Center moved to a more accessible location at 66 Franklin Street) but the basic information on services is correct. That is where the money is going.

    As confusing as the report appeared to be, the facts on the numbers of individuals served are factual: the entire One-Stop system provided employment services to 21,288 individuals who produced a total of 97,026 visits to the centers between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2008. And that is for the adults only (anyone over the age of 18).

    In this very hard economic environment (according to EDD, Oakland’s unemployment rate in August was at 10.5%) it is important that Oaklanders continue to receive the free of charge employment services available. Oakland’s recipients of WIA funds have met or exceeded the State-imposed performance benchmarks in spite of all the politicking going on. And I am proud of being a part of that accomplishment.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    Scrutinized by who? The Council has been trying to get answers and some form of accountability for years, and hasn’t been able to. The WIB, as I understand, has been operating without a quorum for quite some time and meetings are not properly noticed to the public. This is far from an acceptable level of transparency.

  4. Max Allstadt

    How can a private citizen or journalist acquire raw data about the flow of funds through this program? Does the city have data? Can we see it? If not, why not?

    What about raw data about the effectiveness of different funded projects? How about their effectiveness per dollar spent?

    If this money goes to organizations outside of government, what records are they required to keep and what are they required to share with the public about how they spend our money?

    Is there any reason that the path of this money should not be fully traceable? What harm would it do to be transparent and accurate?

    Do you have the authority to answer these questions, Mr. Toledo? If not, who does?

  5. Pedro Toledo

    I am not a blogger, I am an employee of the Oakland PIC, Inc., and I want transparency and accountability in what is being discussed. That is why I used my real name instead of a pseudonym because I have nothing to hide.

    Who scrutinizes these programs/funds? As I mentioned, the State is the primary entity overseeing the WIA-funded programs in Oakland and everywhere in California. The City’s Fiscal department monitors all programs annually for compliance with regulations and expenditures per category (there are three different funding streams), and the information is made public during WIB meetings (I have no information on the schedule of meetings).

    Workforce Investment Act funds are Federal funds that pass through the State and through the City for the provision of employment services to, in this case, Oakland residents or residents of other jurisdictions who worked for a business located in Oakland. Legislatively, the body in charge is the Workforce Investment Board with the concurrence of the “Chief Elected Official” (i.e., the Mayor). But let’s be clear: there are absolutely no City funds invested in running these programs in spite of any claims to the contrary, or in spite of all the posturing.

    Federal funds must be awarded through a very involved procurement process. The current recipients of the funds were selected after a very public procurement process a few years ago. However, the results did not please some Council members who tried to derail that decision (search for the July 19, 2005 City Council meeting for the attempt to overthrow the entire process, risking the funding from the State).

    Now, insofar as the records required, the information requested from clients served is very exhaustive and that information is kept in very secure State databases. All I can provide is numbers. Vsmoothe provided the link to the report that was not presented at the Community and Economic Development Committee meeting last Tuesday. If you look at table 6 on page 10 you can see the amounts received by each of the service providers for Adult programs. You can divide those amounts by the column of your preference to calculate how much it costs to serve an individual. Or, if you prefer, you can go to table 8 on page 14 and divide the amount by the number of individuals who obtained employment (column I). Youth programs received separate funding, with some funds going directly to Oakland youth to reward such things as attaining a GED or High School diploma, or a job, or entering post-secondary education, as well as for paid work experience. So, you see, there is information available. And if you are not satisfied with that, you can visit any of the centers listed in the Oakland WIB website (www.oaklandwib.org). That’s all from me.

  6. fakchek

    Anybody (Pedro) who says “facts are … factual” raises some serious credibility questions and concerns.

  7. Max Allstadt

    Wait. Please clarify.

    You are “the person in “person in charge of reporting to the State and others on the programs funded by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) in Oakland”.

    Do you do this for all programs funded by the WIA, or just for Oakland PIC?

  8. Max Allstadt

    So you work for one of the biggest receivers of these funds, and you’re tasked with reporting on behalf of the entire city? Fox guarding henhouse?

    Also, I believe that although the money comes from the Feds, the city administrator and city council have a role in the chain of authority.

    I think there is more than one person being evasive here. Although we as of yet have no evidence of malfeasance, the way this mess is set up is a great way to make people suspicious.

  9. Pedro Toledo

    Max, your question would be worrisome except that the State does not take my word as it regards the employment of individuals (which ultimately is the goal of these programs). The question kind of implies that I can fudge data to make an agency look better than the other agencies.

    That doesn’t work. Here is why: suppose that agency X reports to me (or that I fake the info saying) that John Doe got a job today (September 29) with a Fortune 500 making $100/hour. In the State’s view that does not matter. What matters is that some employer somewhere in California reports earnings by that John Doe for the quarter following (i.e., October to December) as part of the Unemployment compensation reports (the so-called Base Wage Record database to which no one outside of the Employment Development Department has access). And then there is the “retention in employment” piece, which means that an employer must report earnings for the following three quarters after a person leaves the program.

    My contention in this whole exchange is that the “millions of dollars” received by the City for these programs are not going into a black hole. There are services being provided and performance benchmarks being met. The real problem is that the information is not getting to City Council (my responsibility is to make sure that I send that report to the state and to the service providers every month). You can question whether the benchmarks are low (they are mandated by the State based on local economic factors), or other factors, but, political posturing notwithstanding, services are being provided for the benefit of Oaklanders. That is my whole point. I will leave the other discussions (why is there no functioning WIB for example?) to the powers that be.

  10. Max Allstadt

    I wasn’t implicitly saying that you were doing anything wrong.

    I was explicitly pointing out that the oversight methods that you had explained to me seemed flawed. I stand by that. If an organization is funded with tax dollars, there should be itemized accounts of how those monies are spent, and they should be easily available to citizens on request. Performance data should be available on request too. This way, watchdog groups can analyze everything and there’s nowhere for failure or graft to hide. I don’t care if “benchmarks are being met”. If we can see the data for ourselves, we can set our own benchmarks, and evaluate accordingly.

    My comments are not about accusations. I want to encourage radical accessible transparency because there is no excuse for anything less.