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Coburn says job training fix found in Oklahoma

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Watchdog Blog

When the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its report last year showing the federal government was spending $18 billion annually on at least 46 duplicative job training programs, none of which could be shown to be working, Oklahoma's gadfly senator, Tom Coburn, put his staff investigators to work on a study of a microcosm of the problem.

The Coburn investigators did a deep-dive look at how those federal job training programs are working in his home state of Oklahoma. The results both bear out the GAO conclusion that federal job training efforts are generally miserable failure and pointed to the solution to the problem.

While programs in Oklahoma were, by and large, hampered by Washington-directed duplication, there are Oklahomans who are defying the odds through their hard-work, ingenuity and compassion. --- Sen. Tom Coburn

"While programs in Oklahoma were, by and large, hampered by Washington-directed duplication, there are Oklahomans who are defying the odds through their hard-work, ingenuity and compassion," Coburn said in a statement accompanying release of the study.

"For instance, Jason Price, the Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services program manager, recognized that, in many cases, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries had the potential to enter the workforce despite their disabilities. Price had the compassion and common sense to create incentives for disabled Oklahomans to work up to their potential and developed a program that has helped as many as 3,000 disabled Oklahomans to find work each year - 100 of whom leave the disability program entirely. Price's work has honored the dignity of disabled Oklahomans and represents the best values of our nation," Coburn said.

Among the study's specific findings were these:

• States know what works better than career politicians in Washington.

Oklahoma's jobseekers, workers and employers should not have to send their tax dollars to Washington, only to have bureaucrats send the dollars back in the form of regulations and programs that do not successfully serve Oklahoma's workforce and job training needs. The Sooner State is introducing the most severely disabled Oklahomans (SSDI recipients) back onto the private payroll - through efforts championed by an Oklahoman - not by Washington bureaucrats and politicians.

• Duplication and overlap among federal job training programs is rampant and creates problems for the States administering the programs.

In Oklahoma there are 40 different job training programs, operated by at least 45 groups, organizations, tribes, state agencies, educational institutions, and quasi-government contractors, across 180 locations with an annual cost of $164 million working separately to develop Oklahoma's workforce. One rural Oklahoma town, Ada, has 17 different job training programs serving a population of 16,810.

• Administrative costs sometimes consume the bulk of federal job training dollars.

In August of 2011, Oklahoma's Southeast Workforce Investment Board (SEWIB) passed a multi-million dollar budget which allocated only 14 cents of every dollar for actual job training services. The SEWIB's budget allocated more for "administrative travel" than "dislocated worker services."

• Federal job training dollars are spent on questionable items and activities which do not lead to sustainable employment.

Job Corp, Oklahoma's largest recipient of federal training dollars, spent over $36,000, during a 6 month timeframe, on flowers and billboards. Job Corps also pays students based on length of time in the program--offering higher stipends for longer enrollment. Additionally, Job Corps takes students for weekly bowling trips and other recreational activities. In another case, Job Corp spent around $76,000 per person to help youth obtain minimum wage jobs.

Go here for the full Coburn report.

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