A $5 million fund within the DC Department of Employment Services is supposed to be used for job training.
Specifically, this particular fund is dedicated to providing “training programs that teach job skills that will facilitate the expansion of employment opportunities for District adult residents,” according to its definition in D.C.’s budget. The money from this pot has funded a job training program for D.C. residents over 50 and hospitality training, for example, as well as cadet training programs for the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and the Metropolitan Police Department.
The program is appropriately named “Local Adult Training.” But recently published documents suggest that not all of the money was used on job training.
Last year, hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Local Adult Training fund paid for event planning, marketing, and event space rental at venues like the Washington Marriott Wardman Park. Money from the fund was also used to pay for temporary administrative workers, and for writing, editing, and photography work.
That information is contained in the hundreds of pages of contracts, invoices, and internal documents DOES provided to the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, chaired by At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who is convening oversight hearings this fall on spending and performance in several DOES programs.
The hearings come after Silverman and Mayor Muriel Bowser butted heads over funding for workforce development programs during budget debates earlier this year.
Silverman, through her committee, recommended full funding for four workforce programs in 2020, including the Local Adult Training program, but withheld those funds for the three successive years. Typically, funds are budgeted four years out. Silverman wrote in her newsletter at the time that the four programs had “not provided reliable data showing D.C. residents graduating with skills certifications and securing jobs.”
The other three programs included in Silverman’s recommended budgeting strategy are the DC Infrastructure Academy, Project Empowerment, and Career Connections. The Council ultimately agreed with her budgeting proposals.
In a tweet thread, the mayor singled out Silverman, saying her budget recommendation “puts a 2020 expiration date on job training programs.”
“As we combat gentrification & displacement, now is not the time to cut programs that equip DC residents with the skills and knowledge they need to secure high-paying jobs,” Herronor tweeted.
This week, the first of two roundtables focused on DOES’ Local Adult Training program and the DC Infrastructure Academy. At the hearing, Silverman said basic information on the effectiveness of D.C.’s workforce development programs in general has been unavailable for years and the lack of availability is not unique to a single administration.
Bower’s administration, Silverman said, was late in delivering a legislatively required report on the $150 million spent on D.C.’s workforce programs, and the report “included very little information on the programs we’re discussing today.”
During the hearing this week, DOES Director Unique Morris-Hughes called Silverman’s budget strategy “a fear tactic that will not change outcomes.” At one point toward the end of the seven-hour discussion, the two engaged in a shouting match, talking over each other and accusing each other of misleading the public.
In the documents Silverman’s committee posted online ahead of the hearing, a few items within the Local Adult Training program caught LL’s eye.
In May, MTB Enterprises signed a $90,000 contract with DOES to lead a rebranding campaign for the Business Services Group, a division within DOES that helps connect employers with employees.
The contract required MTB to attract new employers who could hire District residents, create marketing materials and rebranding concepts (including “DOES talking points,” “social media strategy/plan,” “PowerPoint template,” and “email signature design”), and lead internal and external kick-off events for the new Office of Talent & Client Services.
But an invoice provided to the workforce development committee dated Aug. 9, 2019, shows that MTB was paid $270,000 for the rebranding and marketing campaign—about three times the initial contract. The committee was not provided with an explanation for the increase.
The rebranding culminated in an elaborate rooftop kick-off event at The Capitol View at 400 on Friday, Sept. 20.
“Enjoy breathtaking views of Union Station, the Capitol, and even the Washington Monument, all while enjoying brunch-style refreshments while networking and learning more about what DOES can DO for you,” the event announcement beckoned.
The four-hour event, complete with free food and decorated with flowers, included a 30-minute Q&A session with Morris-Hughes, and two panels featuring DOES employees and local employers. One attendee told LL that only about 40 people attended. Some were DOES employees.
As for MTB, the address listed on the business’ contract with DOES is actually a unit in the Woodner Apartments on 16th Street NW. A person who answered the phone in the Woodner’s leasing office tells LL the building used to offer commercial space for rent, but those leases are no longer available.
It’s unclear whether the suite number listed in MTB’s contract, which matches its business registration on the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs’ website, is linked to a commercial or residential space. A call and email to the company’s agent, Madia Brown, were not returned.
On Sept. 3 of this year, DCRA revoked MTB’s business registration for failure to file a bi-annual report. As of Oct. 29, after LL started asking questions, MTB’s status was restored to “active,” according to DCRA.
Next in the committee’s documents posted online, there’s the $123,000 contract with MW Consulting LLC—or at least that was the original agreement.
In February, DOES hired Marcus Williams, who owns MW Consulting, to develop, coordinate, and execute three events: the Women in the Workforce Conference, DC Infrastructure Academy Week, and the Workforce Recognition Event scheduled for July, according to the original contract.
(A separate invoice provided to the committee shows a $40,000 payment to JW Marriott for event space rental for the one-day Women in the Workforce Conference.)
The $123,000 contract included a public relations specialist, a graphic designer, three technical writers, three event planners, and miscellaneous “materials” that were estimated to cost about $20,000.
But a modification to the original agreement nearly doubled the total award.
According to the amended contract dated July 23, Williams agreed to take on two additional events. The new contract also lists the Workforce Recognition Event, which was rescheduled for September, and two additional events that inflated the total contract to $233,340.
However, it is unclear how much MW Consulting was actually paid. DOES only provided one page of the company’s three-page invoice.
Williams did not return a call and an email seeking comment, but like MTB, the address listed on his contract with DOES, which matches the business registration on DCRA’s website, is a residential condo on C Street SE. DCRA revoked his business registration in September 2018 for failing to file a bi-annual report. Like MTB, Williams’ firm resolved the issue after LL’s call, and DCRA has restored its status to “active.”
And what does DOES plan to use the $5 million Local Adult Training fund for next year?
According to the spending plan submitted to the committee, about $500,000 will go toward office support, printing, videographer services, event planning, space rental, and communications. Another $156,000 is divided among three conferences.
Although there are some job training activities listed in the plan, such as $1 million for the DC Infrastructure Academy and $250,000 for the FEMS cadet academy, the Local Adult Training program no longer includes the MPD cadet training program, which will be completely supported with federal funds, Morris-Hughes said.
At the hearing Morris-Hughes said events and conferences are a necessary part of DOES’ work.
“It may look to the layman and general public that there is a lot spent on events, but these are actually direct program costs. This year alone we put on 49 career fairs. Every career fair that we have cost money,” she said.
Morris-Hughes promised to provide the labor committee with numbers on how many career fair attendees were connected to employment and added that job fairs and conferences offer opportunities for networking, mentoring, and building skills.
“We’re very proud to offer those opportunities for District residents,” she said.