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WATCHDOGS TODAY: Labor Department spent $230 million on grants with no idea if they worked

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Photo - Officials at the Department of Labor's Employment Training Administration handed out nearly $230 million in grants without metrics for determining whether the funds achieved their intended purposes, according to a DOL Inspector General report. The grants were made during the just-concluded tenure of department Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. (AP Photo)
Officials at the Department of Labor's Employment Training Administration handed out nearly $230 million in grants without metrics for determining whether the funds achieved their intended purposes, according to a DOL Inspector General report. The grants were made during the just-concluded tenure of department Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. (AP Photo)
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Officials with the Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration may have awarded more 200 grants intended to help train workers in new skills to get them back on the job may have been awarded at a cost of nearly $230 million with no way of knowing whether the spending accomplished the intended puprose, according to the department's Inspector-General.

The DOL IG's investigation said the ETA used "a discretionary grant program to support schools and businesses that were training workers and helping them find jobs," but the IG probe found that "there were few benchmarks for measuring whether the grants were actually helping people find work or achieving their other goals -- and sometimes results were simply not documented," the Washington Guardian reports today.

The Guardian quoted the IG report saying "the basis used in determining acceptable performance was not defined, documented or consistently applied," with the result that many performance evaluations that were done on the grants were "subjective, inconsistent and unsupported."

For more from the Guardian, go here.

Should Post Office go into self-storage?

There are hundreds of facilities owned by the U.S. Postal Service that it no longer needs in order to deliver the mail, but rather than selling them or letting them sit idle, the USPS Inspector General wonders if some out-of-the-box thinking could generate new revenues to help close the postal deficit.

"One idea, if the law allowed, would be for the Postal Service to provide self-storage services at unused processing facilities. It could also provide safe-deposit boxes at under-used post offices," said an unsigned post on the USPS IG's blog, Pushing the Envelope.

"Self-storage allows users to rent storage space in the form of rooms, lockers or containers on a monthly or annual basis. Safety deposit boxes might be a miniaturized version of self-storage units, where the user could store especially valuable goods or papers in a secure and fire-safe box. These types of services would require little additional overhead or labor hours, although additional security personnel might be needed," the post continued.

The USPS search for new revenues has become increasingly critical in recent years amid mounting deficits and declining usage of traditional snail mail. The deficit for the 2012 fiscal year was $15.9 billion, including more than $11 billion representing a default on funding for employee and retiree benefits.

More from Pushing the Envelope can be found here.

Toomey, McCaskill want permanant earmark ban

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-PA, wants Congress to approve a permananent ban on earmarks to replace the current limited bar. Earmarks are legislative measures introduced by individual congressmen that direct federal tax dollars to specific individuals, companies or other entities. The measures are often attached to unrelated or only loosely related legislation and voted on en masse, thus avoiding the necessity for congressmen to vote on specific measures that may be politically unpopular such as the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska.

"How many big bloated pieces of legislation passed because somebody got a bridge or a tunnel or an earmark that was specific to their state?" Toomey said in describing why he introduced the measure. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, is co-sponsoring the measure with the Pennsylvania Republican.

* Permanently ban all earmarks.

* Define earmarks as any congressionally directed spending item, limited tax benefit, or limited tariff benefit.

* Create a point of order against any legislation containing an earmark. The point of order would only apply to the actual earmark, rather than to the entire bill.

* Require a two-thirds vote to waive the point of order.

The new ban would also apply to Miscellaneous Tariff Bills (MTBs), the legislative measures that exempt certain companies from having to pay import fees and other tariffs for products used in domestic production. Defenders of MTBs claim they protect jobs here at home, while critics such as Toomey and McCaskill say MTBs represent another form of earmarks that congressmen can use to generate political support and campaign contributions.

More information on the measure is available here.

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.

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Mark Tapscott

Executive Editor
The Washington Examiner