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Audit finds bloated budget for green jobs training despite lack of open positions

Solyndra empty for auction 10.jpg

A view down the length of the massive Solyndra production floor, which will was auctioned off with the rest of the defunct company. (Fox News / Claudia Cowen)

A federal audit shows that nearly a half-billion dollars in government funds was spent on training workers for so-called “green jobs.” The only problem is that not enough positions in the growing industry exist.

The findings -- released in a June report by the Government Accountability Office -- showed that only 55 percent of those trained were able to place in a new job, many of which were not technically green jobs. The $501 million in funding came from the 2009 stimulus law. The report also uncovered that the Department of Labor created a framework that led grantees to broadly interpret the program’s definition to include any job “that could be linked, directly or indirectly, to a beneficial outcome” which led to the gap between training programs and available green industry jobs.

“The moral of the story is that you need to know in some detail the nature of the economy you’re serving when you fund job training efforts.”

- Mark Muro, Policy Director, Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings

“Our report suggests that the department identifies the lessons learned,” Andrew Sherrill, a spokesperson for the GAO, told FoxNews.com. “A lot of these programs were created before there were clear job definitions for the industry."

Sherrill adds that other factors contributed, such as the recession hitting around the same time as the grant program and trainees having to compete with unemployed, skilled tradesmen looking for new work.

The GAO suggests in the report that the Labor Department find ways to improve job training associated with emerging industries like green tech in the future. 

“Basically, this is what can happen when you fund large programs amid much uncertainty and when there’s too little data available,” Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director for the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, told FoxNews.com.

“In 2009, there was very little hard, detailed, metro-by-metro data available about the particular size, nature, and growth rates of the so-called ‘green economy.’ Meanwhile, the nation was plunged into total uncertainty given the worst recession since the Depression. So it is not surprising that local grantees struggled to train people and place them in steady low-carbon jobs.

“The moral of the story is that you need to know in some detail the nature of the economy you’re serving when you fund job training efforts,” Muro added. 

The findings are the latest set of problems for a sector being heavily pushed by the current presidential administration.

Last April, California-based startup Fisker Automotive was brought to the verge of bankruptcy after receiving nearly $200 million in taxpayer dollars.

The company, which was touted by the Obama administration as an innovator of plug-in electric cars, had to fire 75 percent of its workforce to stay afloat after only selling 2,000 of the 2,700 cars they manufactured.

The LG Chem battery plant had production laid up for a year as workers were paid to sit around. The production halt was due to a lack of sales of the Chevy Volt but that didn’t stop them from receiving $150 million in federal funds and another $175 million in tax breaks. Production finally began last month, and the factory is expected to increase production by late 2015 -- it was ordered by the Department of Energy to pay back over $800,000 in grant money that was spent on idle worker salaries.

Most notable was the case of Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer start-up founded in 2005 that received nearly $530 million from the Energy Department before having to file for bankruptcy in August 2011. The company was shut down completely a month later amid an FBI investigation into whether the firm and its board members cooked the books and misrepresented its finances while seeking a government handout.

“The GAO report is just more evidence that the administration has no clue what drives a successful economy and job growth,” said Paul Chesser, an associate fellow at the National Legal and Policy Center. "President Obama tried to build this economic sector, but the buyers didn’t come. And now after the initial flurry, the ‘green jobs’ are evaporating.”

“All along the administration has stretched descriptions to the extreme so they fit the “green job” categorization. Pour cement for a wind turbine? Green job! Pick up trash? Green job! Lay floors with ‘sustainable’ materials? Green job! Congratulations — you all get taxpayer subsidies for your work!”