Feds Probe Work Force Boards Over Conflicts of Interest

Aug 12, 2011

The following article was published in The Sunshine News on August 12, 2011:

Feds probe Work Force boards over conflicts of interest

By Kenric Ward

Millions of dollars in “work force” contracts in Florida are under federal investigation amid allegations that funds were disbursed illegally.

The U.S. Department of Labor is reportedly probing 24 regional work force agencies for alleged irregularities that include conflicts of interest by members of the governing boards.

The investigation follows an April 2010 memo by the state Agency for Workforce Innovation, which found that in 37 percent of contracts:

  • The necessary two-thirds vote of the entire governing board was not obtained.
  • The board member who could benefit from the contract did not abstain from voting.
  • The governing board minutes did not document the required disclosures for potential conflicts of interest.

Many of the contracts in question involved community colleges whose top administrators sat on the regional work force boards.

Though the Labor Department would not comment on the investigation, state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, reported that work force agencies awarded 574 contracts totaling more than $55 million between 2008 and 2010.

Fasano spokesman Greg Giordano told Sunshine State News the senator did “not want to speculate on what potential penalties may come out of this investigation; however, he would advocate, if appropriate, for the repayment of any state or federal funds if it is found that contracts were executed contrary to Florida statutes.”

Florida’s work force boards have run afoul of state and federal regulations before.

In 2006, Workforce Central Florida was ordered to repay nearly $3.5 million to the federal government to settle claims that it misused public money.

Last April, amid a hail of public mockery, the Orlando-based board abruptly shut down a marketing campaign that used $14,000 in federal funds to buy and distribute 6,000 red capes to job seekers.

A state official who declined to be identified by name, called the regional work force boards “the worst form of government largess.”

“The people on these boards are local people, buddies with commissioners, people who are linked in various ways to political people, including members of the Legislature,” this source said.

Ostensibly created to generate jobs, the work force boards receive federal employment grants, which flow through the state Agency for Workforce Innovation.

The latest allegations of improper management further undermine the public perception of these programs and raise more doubts about accountability.

Fasano says tighter controls are needed. The senator intends next year to refile legislation to prohibit the use of state or federal funds for purchasing food and other recreational items by regional work force boards.

“If the U.S. Department of Labor report results in specific legislative remedies to correct any problems that may be identified, Senator Fasano will either sponsor or co-sponsor that legislation,” Giordano added.

“This is an issue that troubles him greatly.”

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