Topeka The state's job training system is plagued by lack of coordination and oversight and questionable expenditures, according to a legislative audit released Wednesday.
"Who's in charge?" asked state Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, chairman of the Legislative Post Audit Committee.
The panel reviewed an audit of job training programs that will receive $25 million this year in federal dollars under the Workforce Investment Act. The funds are supposed to be used to help unemployed Kansans find work and better train employees.
Two years ago, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius launched an effort that she said would better coordinate those programs by moving them to the Kansas Department of Commerce.
But the audit said problems persisted.
"The work force training is happening, but we could do a better job," said Sen. Karin Brownlee, R-Olathe, who requested the audit. "There needs to be an improvement in the Department of Commerce."
Commerce Secretary Howard Fricke defended his agency's work but conceded more improvement was needed. He blamed many of the problems on the requirements of the federal legislation.
"I am confident that we are on the right track and that the daily efforts of Commerce staff to make system improvements are paying off," Fricke said.
More on the state's work force
But aside from the operational problems, Rep. Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, said she was surprised by the expense of the system. In the 2005 fiscal year, $21 million was spent to provide services to 5,500 people, which averages to $3,818 a person.
"That's just beyond comprehension," she said.
The audit showed significant strains both at the state level and at local job centers in every area of Kansas except the northeast sector, which includes Douglas County.
The audit found:
¢ Three of Kansas' five regional One-Stop centers, which are supposed to bring all training programs under one roof, fail to have all the necessary programs.
¢ The state's efforts to monitor local work force development programs haven't been carried out well. In western Kansas, the contractor for local services gave himself and family members $102,000 in bonuses over a two-year period. That contract was ended in July 2005.
¢ The cost of programs varies significantly area to area.
¢ Many contracts for local programs that were required to be bid competitively were not.
¢ A number of expensive leases for office space.
Lawrence Workforce Center
Fricke told legislators that Commerce had already uncovered and acted on many of the audit's findings. And he emphasized that under the federal law, local boards were in charge of operating the programs.
"The bottom line is that this is a federal program administered at the local level," he said.
He said that when Sebelius took office in 2002 "Kansas' work force development plans were suffering."
Laurel Murdie, who led the audit team, said coordination of work development programs in Kansas continued to be a problem.
"They are still operating very much in silos. That seems to be a struggle not only in Kansas, but other states, too," she said.
She noted that in addition to the programs under Commerce, there were numerous work force efforts under the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and the state prison system.
Brownlee cut Fricke some slack on the audit's problems with the lack of some programs at the One-Stop centers, but she said overall the agency needed to do a better job monitoring area offices.
"We need to have Commerce report what they are finding in the field," she said.