The Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, charged with matching low-income or laid-off workers with local companies, will have a new strategic vision by the end of the year that should address concerns raised last month by the city’s internal auditor.
The blistering audit said the agency did a poor job tracking workers and employers, reports incomplete information to the state of Georgia, keeps loose watch over sensitive personal information and relies too much on a small group of partners to provide training. It recommended that the mayor consider shutting down the agency.
That recommendation was rejected Tuesday.
Joyce Shepherd, chair of the City Council’s community development and human resources committee, said she was disappointed that option was even raised as a possibility.
“I send people to [AWDA] and they tell me that they are not happy with the response. Some cases are great and a lot of cases I hear more of the other side,” said Shepherd, who called for the audit. “But, for me, [shutting down AWDA] is not an option. I am disappointed that would be the No. 1 option. That is not what I was looking for.”
But she urged policymakers to find a fix for the AWDA’s mixed records of finding jobs for residents.
“What are the challenges, what are the issues, and how do we fix it?” Shepherd said. “We need an agency that’s doing it to the best of its ability.”
Duriya Farooqui, the city’s chief operating officer, said the city plans to develop a workforce development strategy “grounded in economic development.”
Farooqui said within 30 days the city would be hiring a consultant to work with AWDA and, within six months, will come up with a plan that includes partnering with Invest Atlanta to look at how to train people for the jobs the city hopes to attract.
“Can we develop a strategic vision? Absolutely,” Farooqui said.
In January, city auditor Leslie Ward released a 52-page internal audit that asserted a myriad of problems at the agency.
Also uncovered in the audit was the fact that at least $1 million was spent on training for clients who did not meet eligibility requirements. The AJC reported in early February that the money was supposed to be spent on job training, primarily construction training, within the Atlantic Station district.
But the retail and residential complex was already completed by the time the cash was spent, according to the audit.
The audit —- which focused on the period of July 1, 2010, through May 15, 2012 — also showed widespread problems with record-keeping and with the cherry-picking of data that the AWDA reports to state authorities. About 57 percent of the agency’s clients live outside the city and similar services are provided by workforce development agencies in Fulton and DeKalb counties and by the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Deborah Lum, executive director for the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, blasted the report and blasted the media for its characterization of the organization. She said the agency continues to put people to work at a lower cost than other agencies because of the work they do with colleges like Atlanta Technical College.
Alexis Scott, the chair of the AWDA’s board, came out of the meeting relieved that the agency will continue, but saw some benefits in the audit process.
“I am grateful for the audit, because it pointed out some of our shortcomings,” Scott said. “The agency, in my biased opinion, does a good job in providing critical services to the citizens of Atlanta.”