The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.


Privatize DC's One-Stop Career Centers

On Wednesday, residents testified before the DC Council about the performance of the Department of Employment Services. This is my testimony.

I am an editor at Greater Greater Washington and resident of Georgetown with my wife and son. I am a supporter, like all Greater Greater Washington contributors, of the tremendous investments being made in transit, parks and economic development that are creating a more liveable, walkable city.

Mayor Gray and DOES Director Mallory. Image from DOES.

I am, however, equally concerned that these invest­ments will end up on the ash heap of history as just another urban renewal that displaces the poor out of sight and out of mind, to be somebody else's problem, an injustice actively perpetrated by us all.

Privatizing the One-Stop Career Centers would improve our ability to move forward as one city. That's because One-Stop privatization would unleash the type of innovation to address joblessness that we have have seen with charter schools addressing childrens' education.

While there is an enormous investment in and attention being given to our first chance system—our public schools—our second chance system has received far less attention until very recently.

Our second chance system is our workforce development system that helps people get back up when they've been knocked down—knocked down by changes in labor markets both private and public, knocked down by addiction, knocked down by employers who can't look past one's employment status, criminal record and address or lack of one.

Until our second chance system receives the same investment and accountability as our first chance system, one knockdown will put you out in a city that is increasingly expensive to live in.

The main thing that is working in our second chance system is the Mayor's initiative to put qualified, prescreened applicants in front of employers known as One City One Hire. It's an apt name for the program, because it addresses the lack of trust that many employers have had in unemployed job applicants that hail from a certain part of the city.

Job training providers all work to build this trust on the part of employers in their own clients, and it's wonderful to see the Mayor and Director Lisa Mallory stepping into the gap to build this trust.

The risk, with One City One Hire, is that the next mayor will not give it the same investment and focus. For that reason, it is critical that Director Mallory operationalize One City One Hire into the daily functioning of DOES (Department of Employment Services), and that requires being more publicly transparent about the funding and operations of One City One Hire.

After all, One City One Hire is essentially doing what the Business Services Group of DOES was supposed to be doing all along. It would be helpful to know, for example, what employees work on One City One Hire, how are they organized, and what has been codified from a process and metrics perspective.

Director Mallory and Mayor Gray deserve a good amount of praise for what they have accomplished in One City One Hire, praise that pundits looking for scandal have been uninterested in giving.

So, if One City One Hire is the main thing that is going right, what is the main thing that is going wrong?

When DC residents are without a job, they are told to go to a One Stop Center, known as DC Works. They will help you get a job and, if you have barriers to employment, they will connect you with the resources available to overcome those barriers.

But what unemployed folks usually encounter when they muster the dignity to step into a One-Stop Center and ask for help is a 5-10 stop center that treats them with the indignity that we all suffered at DMVs in the 1990s.

This isn't my assessment. This is the unequivocal assessment of report after report. The Review of the District's One-Stop Service System prepared by Callahan Consultants in 2008, a report by Appleseed in 2008, a report by the D.C. Jobs Council in 2007, a report by Wider Opportunities for Women in 2004, and a report by the D.C. Jobs Council in 2001.

In the most recent report from Callahan Consultants in 2008, we learn that orientation classes are held the first two days of each week, and if customers walk in on any other day or after the orientation has started, they are turned away and told to come back for the next class. No one-on-one orientation was observed.

When customers do make it through the orientation class, they are sent to a computer to look up jobs or training options. If they have obstacles to employment, such as child care, they are sent to other offices like DHS to find available resources. That doesn't sound like one stop to me.

If customers do find a training course that suits them, they apply for ITA funding for the course. If they do not have an 8th grade educational level, they are rejected right away, and referred to an educational provider. The report says the one stop, "does not continue to track these clients, and given the lack of intensive basic and remedial education resources these clients are often lost".

If they do qualify for the class, they then wait for an average of 45 days for the funding to be approved. Keep in mind, that all training providers' courses have already been approved by DOES.

The report says that "the process itself, which includes required return visits for eligibility determination, for testing, and for submission of a vendor acceptance letter, etc, is being used as a screening mechanism" that "could be characterized as a 'creaming' process…to ensure achieving federal performance standards".

Now, Director Mallory is committed to reforming the One-Stops. I think that her reform efforts would only be buttressed by an initiative to charter private one-stop centers, run by private sector organizations, and held to new, strict performance requirements that would apply to all one-stop centers.

Many states outsource all of their one-stop centers to private sector organizations. Just like we have competition between service providers of our first chance system, our traditional and charter public schools, I believe we should have competition between service providers of our second chance system.

Both public and privately chartered one-stops must track the employment status over 6 months, 1 year and 2 years of everyone who walks in the door. As it is, when Callahan Consultants asked in 2008 for the sign-in logs for the past month, the One Stops were unable to provide them.

While private one-stop centers would be an initiative of the Workforce Investment Council which certifies One-Stop Centers, it's important that DOES and Chairman Michael Brown support the initiative. The public employees union will likely fight any such privatization.

Thank you for listening to my testimony, and for your efforts on behalf of the unemployed in our city.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 


Add a comment »

1. Privatize the one-stop career centers
2. ...
3. People get jobs!

This sounds like a good reason to streamline the system. There's very little market case for anyone to run a privatized career center, except insofar as providing opportunities for for-profit companies to extract money out of the system to enrich themselves before their ineffectiveness gets uncovered.

Charter schools only work in DC because they are started by the direct stakeholders, namely the parents and other community members. Privatized "One-Stop Career Centers" would be nothing more than management consultants coming in, starting a "one-stop career center," skimming off the grant money from the city, and then closing up job when the scandals broke.

by JustMe on Mar 2, 2012 1:59 pm • linkreport

Wow, even as a Republican I have some major concerns with this... But, it's a good conversation starter and it's always good to keep shining a light on government inefficiencies and failures. I think my first concern would be the utter failure DOES has had with outsourcing or privatizing any training programs. If I was a friend of the Mayor, I'd say this is a brilliant idea, but I'm much more skeptical than that.

by @SamuelMoore on Mar 2, 2012 2:47 pm • linkreport

A better idea (in part because I have little trust in most private entities DC picks to do services like this) is to run employment and job training through DHS when the client is a food stamp recipient.

The feds have FSET (food stamp employment and training) matching funds that can be used to supplement (not replace) local dollars, as long as the right screening is done to make sure only FS recipients are getting the money. Literally millions of dollars are on the table here, and corporate job training like what Walmart promised is also available for matching if FS recipients (and there are 140 THOUSAND of those in DC) are getting the training.

At yesterday's DHS oversight hearing, the director said they're working with DOES on this, but it seems progress is slow. They said they could really use 1 or 2 staff members to devote themselves to this, and it seems like it would be money well spent. Might be worth calling the mayor's budget folks (or the mayor!) or testifying at budget hearings in support of that--seems more plausible than privatization anyway.

by sb on Mar 2, 2012 3:32 pm • linkreport

@sb "They said they could really use 1 or 2 staff members to devote themselves to this, and it seems like it would be money well spent." Based on the continuing scandals with DC employees, malfeasance, theft and failure to perform I'd be interested more in an accounting for the staff they have and what they accomplish before adding to the payroll.

by danmac on Mar 2, 2012 3:58 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure exactly what the "magic of privatization" is supposed to accomplish here. Unemployment in DC is purely structural: Low-skill entry-level jobs are by and large in the suburbs. They just don't exist in the city in large enough numbers to make a difference. The answer is to make it easier for people to access those jobs--whether by helping the very poor to move to where the jobs are, or by providing them with subsidized transportation to get out to the suburbs. Also by doing everything we possibly can to increase the number of new middle-class DC residents.

Sprinkling "privatization" fairy-dust on the situation will almost certainly turn out just as @JustMe says.

by oboe on Mar 2, 2012 5:28 pm • linkreport

How about we just employ people to hand dig a seperated blue line? That would get you lots of low skilled labor jobs, plus we would actually get something we need out of it. Also, maybe we could still call it a jobs program and get these matching funds sb refered too.

Seriously, we are already paying people to be on food stamps and unemployment. Why not have them do some actual work for the money?

by Doug on Mar 3, 2012 2:32 am • linkreport

DC has a large number of new apartments and condos which require cleaning and concierge staff. These require little more than a willingness to learn and some effort. How many of these are being filled by DC residents ?

by danmac on Mar 3, 2012 9:15 am • linkreport

1: This is a terrible idea because there is ZERO profit potential in career assistance.
2: The private companies that do something similar to career assistance have a terrible track record.
3: Under current federal and District law this would be illegal, that means both Congress and the city council would have to agree on something. Enjoy your pipe dream.
4: a real solution would be to be rid of many of the staff, hire new competent people AND to better educate the people of DC.

by John S. on Mar 3, 2012 12:19 pm • linkreport

Many charter schools are successful because they specialize - they exclude special needs students (be they gifted or challenged) and teach to a target middle. That works all right for many of the kids in these schools. It doesn't work for the "left-behind" kids who are left in a school with other kids who couldn't make the charter school cut. Though privatization of One-Stop centers might help specifically targeted "middle" of adults, the edges would be excluded and the city would still have to deal with them (though then, the cases the city would handle would be even more desperate, and the outcomes predictably worse).
I can see also several devious profit streams here. The worst is this: The One-Stop centers partner with a certain big employer of unskilled labor (e.g., Wal-Mart). The center sends a good percentage of their clients to this employer. The employer keeps them on for six months to a year and fires the vast majority of them. The One-Stop center is praised for connecting these people with jobs and their numbers look good. The employer gets to have a cheap farm of labor that they can fire regularly without consequence which means they don't have to give them raises. The clients, on the other hand, are screwed over - they were trained with this one job in mind and don't have transferable skills. Not sure what other sorts of income streams you expect from this aside from grant money.

by Charles on Mar 5, 2012 10:42 am • linkreport

Social Security tried to do this by essentially privatizing the vocational rehabilitation system under the Ticket to Work program. It has failed because the private providers quickly learned that they couldn't make a profit (or in many cases even break even) under any of the payment systems. No profit, no market.

by wincemeat on Mar 5, 2012 1:18 pm • linkreport

I would like to see some statistics on privatizing. It sounds like a good idea, but what sounds good in conversation doesn't really work in real life.

by Marta on Mar 6, 2012 8:04 am • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

You can use some HTML, like <blockquote>quoting another comment</blockquote>, <i>italics</i>, and <a href="http://url_here">hyperlinks</a>. More here.

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.


Support Us