Labor Department moves to streamline bidding process for Job Corps center contractors

by Wesley Brown (wesbrocomm@gmail.com) 555 views 

The U.S. Department of Labor has released its first bid solicitation seeking a new contractor to streamline a local Job Corps center in Flint, Mich., as the Trump administration quietly continues its efforts to overhaul the national residential training and employment program for at-risk youth.

The move comes just over two months after nationwide public outcry and pushback from some Arkansas congressional members forced the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reverse its decision close rural Job Corps program across the U.S., including the 35-acre Cass Civilian Conservation Center in Franklin County.

Although the decision to shut down the rural Job Corps program has been put on hold indefinitely, the DOL issued a fixed-price bid solicitation on Aug. 15 seeking the services of a contractor to operate and streamline operations at the urban Genesee Job Corps Center in Flint. That center offers several hand-on, blue-collar job training programs and a pre-apprentice carpentry program backed by local unions.

“The development and training of students is the top priority of every Job Corps Center,” Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor Patrick Pizzella said. “(This) announcement is a historic shift in the Department’s continued efforts to help students, ensure accountability, and serve as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars. I commend the work of the Employment and Training Administration, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management, and the Solicitor’s Office for getting this done.”

According to DOL officials, Job Corps services historically have been procured using cost-reimbursement type contracts, where a contractor is paid for all allowed expenses plus an additional payment to allow for a profit. Cost-reimbursement contracts contrast with fixed-price contract, in which the contractor is paid a negotiated amount regardless of incurred expenses DOL officials said the shift to firm-fixed price contracting was recommended by the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Government Accountability Office and the Office of the Inspector General.

In late May over the Memorial Day weekend, the Labor Department quietly announced plans to shutter or outsource all the nation’s rural Job Corps centers, which offer free-of-charge education and vocational training to young men and women between the ages of 16 to 24 in isolated, rural areas across the U.S.

A month later, during a visit to the State Chamber of Commerce headquarters in Little Rock, former DOL Secretary Alexander Acosta confirmed that agency officials had accepted a letter from the U.S. from USDA’s Forest Service to withdraw from operating the 28 Job Corps centers. Based on the Trump administration’s fiscal review, Acosta told Talk Business & Politics at the time that the majority of rural CCC operations will be replaced by new contract operators or a partnership overseen by the Department of Labor. Centers with new operators will implement new policies and approaches that will offer students the skills they need to earn an independent living and succeed in meaningful in-demand jobs, officials said.

“The goal is to provide skills to young Americans … that, you know, have had problems and they’ve had a tough life – so they are particularly difficult to scale up. I think we all can agree on this,” said Acosta, who has since resigned as the nation’s Labor chief on July 12 due to pressure for his handling of Jeffrey Epstein’s case as a federal prosecutor. “Now, we are in essence running 125 community colleges from Washington that are providing these skills. In this particular one, I think the per student cost is about $55,000 per student. So, these are really hard decisions.”

A few weeks after Acosta’s visit to Little Rock, the Trump administration surprisingly reversed the decision to close Cass and other rural centers, which would have impacted about 50 jobs in Arkansas and more than 1,100 positions nationwide. That decision, however, did not impact 125 Job Corps offices across the U.S., including the Little Rock office, which offers similar technical training programs for urban teenagers and youth.

In Arkansas, the lone urban Job Corps campus is located at 6900 Scott Hamilton Drive in Little Rock. That on-campus center offers career planning, on-the-job training, and job placement for teens and youth adults between age 16 and 24. It also offers driver’s education and English language learning, along with benefits including residential housing, food service, health and dental care, and bi-weekly basic living and clothing allowances.

The Cass job training center is located along the banks of Fane Creek near the Mulberry Scenic River and the Ozark National Forest. The center offers a tuition-free training and education in such technical areas as advance manufacturing, culinary arts, bricklaying, heavy equipment operations and carpentry. All students in the program live on the rural campus, which includes a dormitory, cafeteria, store and several activity and fitness centers.

DOL officials said most Job Corps centers are operated through contracts awarded on a competitive basis to private business operators. Agency officials did not provide any further details on how many of the rural and urban Job Corps centers will undergo similar fixed-price outsourcing to private contractors.

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