Evaluation of the Secretary of Labor's Comments on "The Award of Funds to the National Farm Workers Service Center, Inc. Was Poorly Managed"

HRD-79-127: Published: Oct 2, 1979. Publicly Released: Oct 5, 1979.

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The Secretary of Labor questioned certain conclusions drawn by GAO in a previous report concerning funds awarded to the National Farm Workers Service Center, Inc. The report questioned the need for a residential English language training program because State and local school officials believed the center's program would duplicate educational opportunities already available through the school system. The Secretary contended that while the Kern County, California, school system attempted to meet farmworkers' needs, its programs did not significantly benefit many workers whose employment and migration patterns precluded them from using the available facilities. The California State Department of Education, however, reported that the number of courses Kern County offers is determined by the number of persons interested in participating. Courses for 20 or more students can be offered at farmworker locations. Thus, the State Department of Education maintained that with very few exceptions all interested persons have a chance to attend courses.

Concerning the question as to whether the proposed program was a duplication of effort, the Department of Labor (DOL) should have ensured that both State and local governments had an opportunity to comment on the center's proposal in relationship to State, area, and local plans and programs. The high cost of the vocational skill training program in the amount of about $21,000 per slot exceeded the $7,500 amount specified in the solicitation for grant applications. DOL objected to the GAO statement that five applicants were eliminated because their applications exceeded the recommended cost guidelines, but DOL officials provided no documentary evidence to support their position. GAO continued to believe that announcement of the grant award prior to negotiating the grant proposal weakened the negotiating strength of DOL. DOL denied access by GAO to all grant-related records for 2 months, which delayed the GAO report to over 30 members of Congress who had requested that GAO review the DOL award of funds to the center. GAO criticized DOL for awarding the center an agricultural apprenticeship training contract on a sole source basis, rather than by competitive means. GAO understood that the center program director intended to limit participants to those speaking Spanish; DOL denied this, but furnished no new evidence to the contrary. Finally, it was observed that although the center scored low in the area of residential skill training experience, GAO did not suggest that this in itself should disqualify the center from consideration as a possible grantee.

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