The Department of Labor’s Job Corps program helps low-income youth gain job skills at 118 centers across the country. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service operates 24 of the centers.
In May 2019, both agencies proposed to return operation of the USDA centers to Labor. Labor proposed closing 9 of the 24 centers based on students' access to centers, and center cost and performance. However, Labor did not include its methodology for selecting centers for closure in its notice for public comment. The agencies later withdrew the proposal.
We recommended Labor include more information in its notices for public comment.
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What GAO Found
The nation’s 118 Job Corps centers provide low-income youth with a comprehensive array of services aimed at helping them obtain the skills necessary to get a job, enter the military, or go to college. The Department of Labor (DOL) operates 94 Job Corps centers under agreements with various service providers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Forest Service operates the remaining 24 centers, referred to as Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers (CCC), which focus on work experience in managing natural resources, among other things.
In a May 30, 2019 Federal Register notice, DOL publicly announced its proposal to end the role of the Forest Service in the Job Corps program. Prior to DOL’s announcement, USDA stated its intent to withdraw from the Job Corps program, and return operation of the Forest Service-operated Job Corps centers to DOL in a May 24, 2019 press release. In both of their announcements, DOL and USDA cited a misalignment between Forest Service’s core mission–to improve the condition and resilience of the nation’s forests–and Job Corps, which primarily focuses on education and employment training.
In the Federal Register notice, DOL proposed permanently closing nine CCCs, and transferring operation of the remaining 15 CCCs to DOL. Based on DOL documentation and discussions with DOL officials, GAO found that DOL based its selection of the nine centers on student access to Job Corps centers within their state of residence, center performance, and various cost factors. Regarding student access, DOL officials said they considered the percentage of in-state participants because this is an important element in serving local at-risk youth as well as area employers. Regarding performance, DOL used a weighted 5-year average performance ranking and found that seven of the nine centers were ranked in the bottom half of all Job Corps centers. Regarding costs, DOL officials said most are fixed costs and the cost per student for running some of the centers is high because they serve relatively fewer students.
However, DOL did not include its methodology for identifying centers for closure, such as how it calculated center performance, in the notice for public comments. Without this information, members of the public and Congress may not understand how DOL makes its decisions to close certain centers.
Although DOL subsequently rescinded its proposal to end USDA Forest Service’s role in the Job Corps program in June 2019, the proposal to close the nine CCCs adversely affected student recruitment and enrollment at those centers. Specifically, DOL suspended student recruitment and enrollment for about a month before rescinding the decision and resuming activities in late June 2019. Suspending operations at the nine centers resulted in the loss of staff and potential new students. Forest Service officials said they are working closely with DOL to increase recruitment and develop a marketing program to attract more students from rural communities, but estimate that it will take about 9 months to attain stable recruitment and enrollment goals.
Why GAO Did This Study
In May 2019, DOL and USDA announced plans to permanently close nine CCCs and transfer operation of the remaining CCCs from USDA to a contractor or partnership overseen by DOL. The proposal was withdrawn by DOL in June 2019 after members of Congress and others expressed concerns with closing the centers.
This report (1) describes the issues that prompted the decision to end USDA's role in the Job Corps program, and how members of the public, Congress, and Forest Service staff were notified of this decision; and (2) describes the factors considered in selecting centers for closure, and examines the effect the announcement of proposed center closures had on Forest Service CCC recruitment and enrollment activities.
GAO reviewed relevant federal laws, DOL documentation, public notifications, and written responses to questions about the CCCs. GAO interviewed officials from DOL and USDA.
GAO recommends that DOL include detailed information on the methodology used to identify centers for proposed closure in its notices for public comment.