National Emergency Grants:

Labor Is Instituting Changes to Improve Award Process, but Further Actions Are Required to Expedite Grant Awards and Improve Data

GAO-04-496: Published: Apr 16, 2004. Publicly Released: May 3, 2004.

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The Department of Labor (Labor) awards national emergency grants to states and local areas to provide assistance to workers who lose their jobs because of major economic dislocations or disasters. Most grants awarded are regular grants to assist workers affected by plant closings or mass layoffs. Questions have been raised about whether grant funds are getting to states and local areas quickly enough. GAO was asked to assess the effectiveness of the process for awarding national emergency grants, whether Labor is planning changes that will improve the grant award process, and what is known about how grant funds are used.

Labor does not award most national emergency grants in a timely manner, and as a result, services to workers have been delayed, interrupted, or denied. Labor's goal is to make award decisions within 30 calendar days of receiving a complete application. However, nearly 90 percent of regular grants took longer than 30 days to award. On average, Labor took 92 days to award regular grants. For grants disbursed in more than one payment, Labor took on average 83 days to award the additional increments. Twenty-five of 38 states responding to our survey reported that because of grant award delays, local areas had to delay or deny services to workers. Labor is taking some steps, such as implementing an electronic system to better manage its award process and incorporating its 30-day goal in new guidelines, that may improve the timeliness of grant awards. However, some weaknesses still remain in Labor's planned changes that could prevent Labor from accurately assessing how long it takes to make grant awards and incremental payments. For example, Labor plans to stop counting the days elapsed if it finds problems with an application, and Labor's proposed guidelines do not establish a timeliness goal for incremental payments. Little is known on a national level about how national emergency grant funds are used because of weaknesses in two primary data sources. Because of the lack of clear guidance, states report inconsistent data in progress reports, and some states have not reported data on national emergency grants to a national database covering Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programs. To address these problems, Labor is implementing a standardized electronic form for grantees to submit progress reports, issued guidance requiring states to submit data on national emergency grant participants to the national WIA database, and checked states' latest submissions to identify if data were missing. However, Labor's guidance still is not sufficiently clear to ensure that states will report data in progress reports consistently, and Labor does not have specific plans to continue checking states' data submissions to ensure that data are complete.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Labor implemented its electronic system for progress reports (ETA form 9104) on July 3, 2005. The electronic system provided definitions for the report's data elements, which will help to ensure that states submit data consistently.

    Recommendation: In addition, to ensure that information relating to national emergency grants is accurate and complete, the Secretary of Labor should develop specific reporting guidance on progress reports to ensure that grantees define data elements consistently.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Labor is manually tracking the number of days from receipt of a complete application to the date an award letter is sent to the grantees, including days grantees spend revising their applications. This tracking system is in place for applications for both initial grants and incremental payments.

    Recommendation: In order for Labor to better manage the grant award process and to accurately assess how long it takes to make grant awards and incremental payments, the Secretary of Labor should continuously track the number of days that have passed, beginning when applications are first submitted and until the award letter is sent, including days grantees spend revising their applications.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In guidance issued in the Federal Register on April 27, 2004, the Department of Labor established a goal to make approval decisions within 30 business days on applications for both initial grants and incremental payments of national emergency grants (NEGs). In addition, in July 2006, Labor implemented a change to its electronic application system that allows it to capture the date the grant award letter is issued.

    Recommendation: In order for Labor to better manage the grant award process and to accurately assess how long it takes to make grant awards and incremental payments, the Secretary of Labor should set timeliness goals for the full process--from the receipt of the application until the award letter is sent--for initial grant awards and incremental payments.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Labor issued Training and Employment Guidance Letter 14-03, Change 1 on August 11, 2004, which clearly stated that states' WIASRD submissions should include all individuals served by National Emergency Grants who have exited the program. This action will help to ensure the completeness of data on National Emergency Grant exiters in the WIASRD.

    Recommendation: In addition, to ensure that information relating to national emergency grants is accurate and complete, the Secretary of Labor should ensure that all states submit Workforce Investment Act Standardized Record Data (WIASRD) data on participants exiting from services provided with national emergency grants (for grantees that are not states, ensure that they submit WIASRD data on national emergency grants to states for submission to Labor).

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

 

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