President Obama’s highly-touted green jobs program -- born out of his 2009 stimulus package -- has spent more than $111 million to train 18,000 people who still haven't landed a job.
Elliot P. Lewis, the assistant inspector general of the Labor Department, laid out his findings Wednesday at a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee hearing entitled "The Green Energy Debacle: Where Has All the Taxpayer Money Gone?"
The Labor Department awarded $490.1 million of the $500 million it received from the 2009 Recovery Act though 189 competitive grants. As of June 30, recipients reported spending $162.8 million, or 33 percent of the amount awarded. Another $52 million of that spending did result in 8,000 people finding jobs in the eco-friendly industry.
Though the department set a goal of training nearly 97,000 people and placing 80,000 in jobs, the 26,000 people trained represent 21 percent of the goal while only 10 percent had found work.
"The placement numbers are very far behind,” Lewis acknowledged under questioning from Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending.
“Yeah, very bad,” Jordan replied before asking whether the initial targets can ever be reached.
“They could catch up to their targets for serving,” he said. “They would have to make a significant increase to catch up with their placement targets.”
Jordan asked Lewis whether he would recommend the termination of the program.
“I would want to have more information from the department,” Lewis said.
“How much more do you need when you look at these numbers and how bad they are, how much more do you need to say this is just not working?”
Lewis said he didn’t know.
The testimony was a blow to Obama, who is working frantically to show voters he is trying to boost the sluggish economy. Since Labor Day, Obama has been touring the country, pitching his $447 billion jobs plan that failed to advance in the Senate last month. The president is now urging Congress to pass it piece by piece -- the Senate also rejected the first $35 billion provision -- and he's using executive actions to bypass the legislative branch.
Among the others who testified at Wednesday's hearing was Gregory Freidman, the federal watchdog who first raised a red flag about the Energy Department’s$35.2 billion loan program that gave a $528 million loan to the now-bankrupt Solyndra.
Friedman told the committee that the Energy Department was simply overwhelmed by the amount of stimulus money it received and could not overcome challenges in getting the money out the door on a timely basis.
"Not meaning to make a joke out of a very serious subject, it's been equated to attaching a lawn hose to a fire hydrant that the infrastructure, both at the federal, state and local levels, simply was not there to accept the burden," Friedman said.
Friedman said the Energy Department has improved the pace of stimulus spending but noted that as of late last month, about 45 percent of the stimulus funds had not been spent, mostly by state and local governments.
“In summary, a combination of massive funding, high expectations and inadequate infrastructure resulted, at times, in less than optimal performance,” he said.