By Rick Manning – The Labor Department faces a scandal over their mismanagement of funds for the Job Corps program at the very worst time for the Obama political appointees who roam the halls of the Frances Perkins Building.
With the old Secretary out, and the new Secretary not yet appointed, each and every political appointee knows that his or her job could be ending shortly as a new broom typically sweeps clean.
And those most at risk are those responsible for oversight of the Job Corps program that is suffering from a reported $100 million budget shortfall. This shortfall is being cited by local Job Corps facilities across the nation as the cause for the elimination of half to two-thirds of the student spots at their facilities.
The Washington Examiner reports that the House Education and Workforce Committee is opening up an investigation into the mismanagement with Chairman John Kline issuing a statement that said, “I expect the department and all interested stakeholders to cooperate fully with the committee’s investigation so we can ensure this program serves our nation’s youth while protecting taxpayers’ investment.”
Additionally, this reporter has also learned that Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety Chairperson Patty Murray and ranking member Johnny Isakson have sent a letter to the Labor Department demanding that they appear before the subcommittee which states, “We are extremely concerned about the budget shortfalls in program years 2011 and 2012, the lack of clarity about specific causes for the shortfalls, including the reduction of center capacity to serve students.
“In addition, we are very concerned by what seems to be a lack of capacity at the Department to provide sufficient programmatic and financial monitoring of the Job Corps program.”
This is the type of letter that every political appointee hates to get, a written slap across the face with more to come when the appointee has to face inquiring members of Congress without a partisan shield.
Already, Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey is demanding an investigation from the Labor Department’s Inspector General in response to the student count cuts.
With 125 Job Corps centers around the nation with congressional patrons from both political parties supporting them, cutbacks in the number of at risk teenagers who can participate is likely to create an even greater political firestorm.
Not exactly the kind of situation that a new Obama nominee for Secretary of Labor wants to spend his or her time defending with Senators who are considering whether to provide a confirmation vote.
And everyone else at the Labor Department knows it. They are flying without cover, and can be dismissed at will. For those who are directly or even indirectly responsible for failing to provide the necessary financial oversight, Job Corps depositions, hearings and possibly trials loom as a black cloud over their futures.
Gone are the hopes of landing back into a cushy job with a law firm or labor union trading on their contacts in the Administration to make them wealthy. These dreams are replaced by the nightmare of spending money on lawyers, with prospective employers not returning phone calls.
And perhaps this is the bigger lesson for the Obama political team. You are term limited, and the last thing that any political appointee wants is to be unemployable after leaving the Administration due to a scandal on their watch.
This is why the Job Corps scandal should send a shiver up the spines of everyone in the Administration. There is nothing quite like the sobering fear of spending your post Administration years paying out your savings for lawyers as you languish under the microscope of congressional, inspector general and U.S. Attorney investigations.
While no one knows where the Job Corpsgate will lead, one thing is certain, whoever is the new Secretary of Labor is unlikely to retain anyone tarred by its brush, and that should make for a much more open investigative process as first term officials seek to protect themselves through cooperating rather than stonewalling.
This breakdown in discipline is likely to recur in places like the much criticized Departments of Energy and Interior as they go through a similar Cabinet Secretary transition, and that is why second terms are so difficult, because now, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Rick Manning (@rmanning957) is the Vice President of Public Policy for Americans for Limited Government.