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More Stimulus Snafus: Arkansas Green Jobs Training Program a Bust! (Updated!)

Updated: Apr 13

We’ve been conducting an ongoing exploration of how economic stimulus funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (“Booooo! Hisssssss!”—Me) have been spent in Arkansas, based on the most recent report from the state Recovery office.

What we’ve seen thus far has not presented a strong case for the efficacy of stimulus measures. For instance, on Tuesday we looked at the shortcomings of U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) stimulus funding, which DOE’s own inspector general declared to be “less than optimal” in recent Congressional testimony.

And the hits, they just keep on coming!

In 2010, the Arkansas Dept. of Workforce Services (DWS) received $4.8 million in stimulus funding from the U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL) Employment and Training Administration (ETA), part of a $500 million green jobs package, to establish the Arkansas Energy Sector Partnership (AESP).

The AESP was pitched as a career development program to “train Arkansans in energy-efficient building, construction and retrofitting; renewable electric power; and energy-efficiency assessment,” as a May 2010 news release from DWS explains.

Eighteen months later, the program’s reported progress in Arkansas offers little reason to celebrate. According to the state’s report on stimulus progress (PDF), that program has spent more than $2.72 million (rougly 46 percent of the total) in order to create a reported 7.07 jobs as of the end of September.

By the Numbers

Worse yet, the program appears to be falling short in enrolling trainees. Look at the numbers, according to the DOL Inspector General report issued at the end of September (PDF). This is from page 19 of the IG’s report:

  1. At its launch, the AESP aimed to recruit a proposed 2,800 Arkansans for training in the program.

  2. However, as of June 30, 2011, only 538 were enrolled in the training program statewide.

  3. The AESP’s target was that 1,792 Arkansans would  complete the program—as of June 30, only 177 (less than 10 percent of the target) had completed training.

  4. The AESP’s target is to have 1,523 Arkansans employed in green jobs as a result of this program. As of June 30, only 6 were reported to be employed, with an additional 5 listed as having “entered in training-related employment.”

(Those numbers in the DOL report are from June 30. I’ve requested updated numbers from DWS to determine if there has been additional progress since. UPDATE: DWS provided revised numbers for their counts, which I’ve included after the jump.)

DOL Inspector General: “Limited Performance Targets Achieved”

Based on my reading, this doesn’t look like a failure on the part of DWS, which has farmed out the funds in grants to a variety of two- and four-year colleges and non-profits. (There are plenty of good reasons to beat up on DWS—I can think of, oh, maybe 161 million of ’em. This just probably isn’t one of them.)

In fact, the problems with the implementation of this training program in Arkansas are the same problems the program has nationwide, according to the DOL.

The IG’s report I referenced above (PDF) assesses the program’s green jobs spending, and their conclusion is not reassuring, based on the title alone: “Recovery Act: Slow Pace Placing Workers into Jobs Jeopardizes Employment Goals of the Green Jobs Program.”

What does the IG conclude? That the overall green jobs program spearheaded by the ETA is a failure, and that what money has not been spent should be returned:

However, with 61 percent of the training grant periods elapsed and only 10 percent of participants entered employment, there is no evidence that grantees will effectively use the funds and deliver targeted employment outcomes by the end of the grant periods…. We recommend that the Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training evaluate the Green Jobs program; and in so doing, obtain an estimate of funds each grantee will realistically spend given the current demand for green job-related skills and the job market for green jobs. Any of the remaining $327.3 million of funds determined not to be needed should be recouped as soon as practicable and to the extent permitted by law so they can be available for other purposes. (Emphasis added)

In explaining the need for economic stimulus funding three years ago, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers emphasized that it should be “timely, targeted and temporary.”  At the very least, the green jobs training program has failed the “timely” part of that equation. This New York Times piece offers more on the shortcomings of green jobs training, and this NYT report from August highlights how the promise of the green economy hasn’t delivered.

So let’s chalk up another failure for the twin chimeras of stimulus spending and green jobs. Turns out they’re less than optimal.

UPDATE: I got a response from DWS communications director Kimberly Friedman, who notes some adjustments to the numbers reported above. One thing that jumps out is that DWS appears to have changed the originally proposed number of enrollees downward from the initial proposed target of 2,800. The stated goal, according to Friedman’s statement below, is now 2,240. So sometime between launching the program and now, they reduced their target by 20 percent.

One noteworthy point that Friedman emphasizes is that there’s a lag time in reporting when they submit results to DOL, which may help to account for some disparity in the numbers. (It’s not the first time we’ve seen a gulf between numbers reported by the state and numbers reported by the Dept. of Labor). It still doesn’t solve the problem of the need for “timeliness” in launching stimulus programs, but that’s another argument for another day.

I’m including Friedman’s statement in its entirety below:

The U.S. Department of Labor awarded Arkansas $4,866,479 to work with two-year colleges and apprenticeship programs in developing and implementing energy efficiency training. The amount of funds expended through Oct. 31, 2011, is $2,348,077.42.  (This is the most current figure we have.) Arkansas received its funding in March of 2010. In turn, the Arkansas Energy Sector Partnership reviewed proposals from two-year colleges and apprenticeship programs to offer energy efficiency training. Sub-award grants were awarded to the two-year colleges and apprenticeship programs beginning in the summer of 2010, concluding in the fall of 2010. After working with industry to determine training needs, the two-year colleges and apprenticeship programs then developed curriculum, trained instructors, purchased equipment and enrolled students. The program curriculums and training programs started in February 2011, with more beginning this semester. The AESP course catalogue can be found [here]. It includes 92 courses at two-year colleges and six specialized trainings through apprenticeship. The AESP goal is to have 2,240 participants enter training. As of today, 1,230 have enrolled in training, which is 54.9 percent of the enrolled in training goal. AESP anticipates that the two-year colleges and the Arkansas Apprenticeship Coalition will meet the AESP training goals. Since training began in February 2011, many participants have not yet completed training.  To date, at least 456 participants are employed, which is 30 percent of our entered employment goal.  The number of people employed is likely much higher. The two-year colleges and apprenticeship programs conduct the training and track employment outcomes. They then enter the data into a U.S. Department of Labor tracking system that DOL made available in December 2010.  A lag time often exists between when a two-year college or apprenticeship program completes training and tracks employment and when the information is entered into the DOL data tracking system. We are currently providing technical assistance visits to each two-year college and the Apprenticeship Coalition to assist them with using the DOL data tracking system.  We have completed eight visits in the past month and will complete the remainder by mid-January, with the overwhelming majority of technical assistance visits completed by the end of 2011. AESP anticipates that the two-year colleges and Apprenticeship Coalition will meet all of the AESP goals before the completion of the grant. The grant ends at the end of January 2013, which is more than a year from now. AESP also had early success with a small pilot program in cooperation with Entergy’s energy efficiency program last semester. Nineteen job-seeking participants who participated in the pilot, or 82 percent, are employed after the program. One participant received $1.50 more an hour over the usual starting wage due to the training. AESP is continuing that training this semester. Also, [here] is a local news story that explains the mobile unit that apprenticeship programs are using to train participants around the state. The Apprenticeship Mobile Unit has been featured by DOL nationally and in national trade publications.

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