Workforce Development gets 'hammered'

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

WINDOW ROCK, Nov. 7, 2013

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The Washington Times’ Golden Hammer fell on the Navajo Department of Workforce Development last week as the newspaper unveiled a U.S. Department of Labor audit accusing the tribal program of mismanaging $16.5 million in federal funds and sitting on another $13.4 million while thousands of applicants waited for assistance.

The Times’ weekly Golden Hammer award goes to entities that the newspaper considers the biggest wasters of taxpayer money.

The NDWD joins two other tribal entities — the Navajo Housing Authority and the Navajo Nation Division of Transportation — in being accused of sitting on millions in allocated federal funding. In September, the Navajo Nation Auditor's Office released an audit that accused NDOT of sitting on funds. The Times has also been covering a series of stories about NHA also having millions in the bank when hundreds of Navajos need homes.

NDWD Director Roselyn Shirley declined to comment on the award, saying she had referred the matter to Erny Zah, communications director for the Office of the President and Vice President, as policy dictates.

However, in a Sept. 24 letter to the DOL, Shirley wrote, “Due to time and travel constraints, we did not have enough time to complete more on-site work with the audit team.”

She also opined that audit reports “should also portray positive accomplishments of the programs being reviewed,” noting that, “The Navajo Department of Workforce Services has been implementing much-needed employment and training programs for the Navajo Nation, for many years.”

Zah said that, after talking with Shirley and others at NDWD, the audit seems to be based on misinformation.

"We actually have three years to spend that money," he said, meaning the 2010 funds could be expended by the end of the present fiscal year and the 2011 overrun must be expended by the end of fiscal 2014.

"The auditors didn't meet with the program managers to get an idea of how our budget team handles the budgeting," he said. "If they had, there's a good chance there wouldn't have been any findings."

The DOL’s inspector general, however, decided after reviewing the NDWD’s books that it could have been serving many more people.

After program years 2010 and 2011, according to the audit, NDWD carried over $13.4 million ($8.5 million more than the allowed carry-over, according to the report), having served only 62 percent of the adults it had budgeted for.

In addition, the audit charges, NDWD used DOL funds to pay for a separate program that was supposed to be funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, didn’t get the required clearances for capital expenditures, and didn’t adequately track participants after the program to see whether it had helped them.

It also spent money on salaries that was supposed to be used for training, and arbitrarily limited re-enrollment of people who wanted further assistance.

Several former clients of Workforce Development contacted by the Navajo Times complained of an arduous, months-long application process, sometimes requiring three different interviews, along with misplaced applications and being denied help for “the dumbest reasons.”
Two former clients described NDWD personnel as “rude” and “unhelpful.”

When it came to sitting on funds, however, NDWD was not alone. About a third of the American Indian programs funded by the DOL carried over at least $2.7 million more than the allowed amount, according to the report.

The inspector general faulted DOL’s own Division of Indian and Native American Programs for not following up on the unused funding or having a procedure in place for retrieving it.

According to the audit, DINAP simply asked the tribal programs to voluntarily return the unspent millions. Not surprisingly, only one program complied.

The report recommended NDWD tighten up its accounting and tracking procedures and DINAP create a policy to retrieve the unspent money.

The main thing the tribe needs to do, according to Zah, is "to make a concerted effort to make sure the auditors get all the information they need to produce a fair and accurate audit."

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