A study commissioned by Sen. Tom Coburn is casting doubt on whether taxpayers' $18 billion annual investment in federal jobs training programs is paying off.
"The vast majority of money we spend in job training doesn't go to job training, it goes to employ people in those job training federal programs," Coburn told Fox News.
The 2011 Government Accountability Office study he commissioned, which examined programs in fiscal year 2009, found an overlapping and duplicative maze of 47 federal jobs programs run by nine agencies. Some were rife with mismanagement, waste, fraud, abuse and corruption.
The study found:
- Some job training participants spent their days sitting on a bus.
- Some were trained for jobs that didn't exist.
- Others were paid to sit through educational sessions about jobs they already had.
- High school students were knowingly exposed to the cancer-causing agent asbestos as part of a job training program.
- Funds were misspent to pay a contractor for ghost employees and to purchase video games.
- Job training administrators spent federal funds on extravagant meals and bonuses for themselves.
- In one state, workforce agency employees took more than 100 gambling trips to casinos mostly during work hours.
Coburn’s criticism comes in the heat of a presidential campaign in which President Obama has made funding job training programs a priority. He showcased one program last month at Lorain County Community College in the key swing state of Ohio.
"Ninety percent of people who graduate from this program have a job three months later -- 90 percent," the president told an enthusiastic crowd.
During that stop, he also tore into Republican budgets that would cut funding for jobs programs.
"What's the better way to make our economy stronger," he said, "give more tax breaks to every millionaire and billionaire in the country, or make investments in education and research and health care and job training?"
Presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney, during a Feb. 24 town hall called for overhauling federal jobs training.
"Let's take that money, give it back to the state, let you fashion your own programs so that you can train your own workers for the jobs of tomorrow," he said.
Even a proponent of federal job training programs, Andy Van Kleunen of the National Skills Coalition, admits there's room for improvement.
"What we need to take a look at is what we know is working in our job training programs," he says. "Places where we have community-based organizations and colleges partnering with employer and local industries. That's really the most effective practice that we see across all of these programs."
The GAO report found since 2004, only five of the 47 job training programs have bothered to find out if participants ever secured a job, leading the GAO to conclude, "Little is known about the effectiveness of most programs."