As hundreds of District youth prepare for what may be their first summer job through a program bearing ex-Mayor Marion Barry‘s name, a new report by the D.C. Auditor finds that the administration could do more to track participant data and outcomes.
In April, the Office of the D.C. Auditor determined in a separate report that the Marion Barry Summer Youth Employment Program would benefit from greater private-sector involvement, more funding from non-local sources, and a yearly independent assessment. Now, an audit ODCA released on Thursday recommends that the District’s Department of Employment Services, which runs SYEP, keep more-complete records on expenditures and placements. It also sheds light on the demographics of the 2015 participants, ages 14 to 24, and what types of jobs they performed.
“One of the things we’re seeing is the value of [D.C.] Council oversight, because I think DOES is really trying to provide a lot more facts and figures than they have in the past,” says Auditor Kathy Patterson. “A takeaway I have from this report is a reminder that a lot of the [SYEP] activity is not employment per se: a lot [is] job training, job readiness, summer bridge programs in schools—another form of job preparation—but we’re not just looking at possibilities for what can extend into the fall.”
Based on raw data provided by DOES, ODCA calculates that 13,969 youth participated in last year’s SYEP, marginally below a 14,000 target figure for the program and the 14,029 the employment agency reported in its own review. Ninety-three percent of ODCA’s number were 14- to 21-years old, with seven percent 22 to 24. 2015 was the first year that the upper age group was allowed to participate in SYEP, thanks to an emergency bill the Council enacted. Their eligibility has been extended for this summer through next, at the lobbying of Mayor Muriel Bowser.
In total, the Auditor says last year’s SYEP cost $19.3 million, including $1.3 million charged against an internal DOES budget. The agency’s own review put expenditures at $18 million. “Because youth ages 22 to 24 were hired into the summer youth program, it is not clear why expenditures in excess of $1.3 million were not charged against the FY 2015 MBSYEP budget” approved by the D.C. Council, ODCA’s report explains, adding that it will publish other audits on SYEP in the coming months. “This is of particular significance given that the source data for summer program budget and expenditure reports are drawn solely from the MBSYEP budget code.”
The audit also finds that post-SYEP job placements for participants ages 22 to 24—247, according to DOES— “were not sufficiently documented.” As City Deskhas reported, the majority of these placements were for part-time jobs, across retail and hospitality companies as well as government agencies. “Rather than relying on self-reporting by summer youth participants, or an after-the fact matching process, ODCA recommends that DOES carefully document its role in post-summer youth program job placements by working with the employers who attend its hiring events and who participate directly in its placement efforts,” the audit goes on to note.
Among SYEP positions for all participants, the audit determined that 78 percent were for local agencies and community-based nonprofit groups. Private firms and charter schools composed 19 percent of the positions.
In a statement, Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Development Courtney Snowden, whose office oversees DOES, said she “welcome[d]” the report.
“[We] are pleased to see that, yet again, we agree on the recommendations and direction for this program,” she said. “What we know for sure is that MBSYEP is a program that changes lives and creates real opportunity for our young people. Per the auditor’s recommendations, we are actively recruiting greater private sector involvement and improving our data collection and reporting across the board.”
Patterson points out that two subsequent SYEP audits from ODCA will “give the Council and the executive more information to help them decide whether the program should be “bigger, broader, narrower, more comprehensive.”
“What I think is interesting is to see how this program has continued to have very broad political support,” she says. “That hasn’t changed. And I’m glad to see the increased scrutiny on how it’s operating and how to improve it.”
This year’s SYEP officially runs from June 27 to August 5, Applications have closed. You can read the full report here.