Job Corps:

DOL Could Enhance Safety and Security at Centers with Consistent Monitoring and Comprehensive Planning

GAO-18-482: Published: Jun 15, 2018. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 2018.

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What GAO Found

Job Corps centers reported 13,673 safety and security incidents involving students from July 2016 to June 2017, according to GAO's analysis of the Department of Labor's (DOL) Employment and Training Administration's (ETA) data. Most reported incidents occurred onsite and involved recently enrolled male students under age 20. During that time, the program served about 79,000 students at 125 Job Corps centers, according to ETA officials. ETA's Office of Job Corps administers the program, which is the nation's largest residential, educational, and career and technical training program for low-income youth generally between the ages of 16 and 24. Drug-related incidents and assaults accounted for 48 percent of all reported incidents (see fig.).

Types of Onsite and Offsite Safety and Security Incidents Involving Students Reported by Job Corps Centers from July 2016 to June 2017

Types of Onsite and Offsite Safety and Security Incidents Involving Students Reported by Job Corps Centers from July 2016 to June 2017

Students generally felt safe at Job Corps centers, yet fewer felt safe in some situations, based on GAO's analysis of ETA's September 2016 and March 2017 Job Corps student satisfaction surveys. At least 70 percent of students reported that they felt safe on half of the 12 safety-related questions in the 49 question survey about their experiences in the Job Corps program; but fewer students reported feeling safe when asked if they were made to feel unimportant or if they heard students threaten each other. ETA plans to administer a new survey nationally by January 2019 that focuses solely on safety and security issues.

ETA has initiated several actions to improve safety and security at Job Corps centers, but insufficient guidance for its monitoring staff and absence of a comprehensive plan for safety and security may put the success of these actions at risk. Among its actions, ETA adopted a new risk-based monitoring strategy to identify emerging problems at the centers. Officials GAO spoke with in five of ETA's regional offices said that the new strategy has improved monitoring, but that more guidance on how to interpret and apply safety and security policies is needed to promote consistency across centers. Also, ETA lacks a comprehensive plan linking its new efforts to an overall safety and security framework. ETA officials told GAO that limited staff capacity and lack of expertise have hindered their efforts in developing such a plan. Without a comprehensive plan, ETA runs the risk that its new efforts will not be successful.

Why GAO Did This Study

Deficiencies identified in multiple DOL Inspector General audits since 2009 and two student deaths in 2015 have raised concerns regarding the safety and security of Job Corps students. GAO was asked to review safety and security of students in the Job Corps program. GAO's June 2017 testimony summarized preliminary observations. This report further examines (1) the number and types of reported safety and security incidents involving Job Corps students; (2) student perceptions of their safety at Job Corps centers; and (3) the extent to which ETA has taken steps to address safety and security at Job Corps centers.

GAO analyzed ETA's reported incident data for Job Corps centers from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017. GAO also analyzed ETA's student survey data from the same period, reviewed relevant documentation, and interviewed ETA officials at its national office and all six regions. GAO also visited two Job Corps centers that had different operators and at least 100 recent incidents. These two centers are not generalizable to all centers.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making three recommendations to DOL, including that ETA develop additional monitoring guidance and a comprehensive plan for safety and security. DOL agreed with GAO's three recommendations.

For more information, contact Cindy Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: ETA concurred with this recommendation and stated that it would develop standard operating procedures for its risk-based monitoring strategy. In August 2018, ETA reported that it is currently preparing standard operating procedures (SOP) in direct response to recommendations made by the Department's Office of Inspector General (OIG). The SOPs will strengthen oversight of safety and security at Job Corps centers. ETA anticipates implementation of standard operating procedures by the end of December 2018. Once the development of SOPs is complete, the Office of Job Corps (OJC) will update the Program Assessment Guide (PAG). ETA anticipates that the updated PAG will be available by the end of the current program year. Training will be conducted for the appropriate regional office staff within 90 days of implementation of any new SOP and within 90 days of implementation of the updated PAG to ensure that regional offices consistently implement the risk-based monitoring strategy. We will consider closing this recommendation when ETA completes these efforts.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary of ETA should ensure the Office of Job Corps expeditiously develops additional guidance, such as SOPs or updates to the Program Assessment Guide, to ensure regional offices consistently implement the risk-based monitoring strategy. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor: Employment and Training Administration

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOL concurred with this recommendation and would take action to address it. In August 2018, ETA reported that it will streamline and update the Job Corps' Regional Office Center Assessment (ROCA) process. ROCAs are comprehensive center operations assessments that are part of the Job Corps program's transition to a risk-based management approach to oversight and monitoring, an approach that also includes remote desk audits and targeted site visits triggered by significant incidents and negative performance trends. ETA anticipates this new ROCA process will be in place by the end of October 2018. Training will be conducted for the appropriate regional staff within 90 days of implementation of the new ROCA process and any subsequent automation of monitoring tools. We will consider closing this recommendation when ETA completes these efforts.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary of ETA should ensure the Office of Job Corps streamlines the monitoring reports completed by regional office staff. This streamlining could include automating monitoring tools, consolidating monitoring reports, or taking other appropriate action. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor: Employment and Training Administration

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOL concurred with this recommendation and has plans to develop a formal written comprehensive plan for Job Corps safety and security. In August 2018, ETA notes that it has a comprehensive risk-based strategy and continues to undertake significant work on safety and security: ETA will develop a comprehensive plan for Job Corps center safety and security. The plan will synthesize and evaluate the safety- and security-related policies and procedures in place and identify what remains to be done in order to establish a complete framework for the program's safety and security efforts. ETA plans to complete this plan by the end of calendar year 2018. We will consider closing this recommendation when ETA completes these efforts.

    Recommendation: The Assistant Secretary of ETA should ensure the Office of Job Corps commits to a deadline for developing a comprehensive plan for Job Corps center safety and security that aligns with leading planning practices, such as including a mission statement with goals, timelines, and performance measures. This could also include developing the planning expertise within the Office of Job Corps, leveraging planning experts within other agencies in DOL, or seeking out external experts, such as the government-wide Performance Improvement Council. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor: Employment and Training Administration

 

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