As feds probe possible fraud in Atlanta’s workforce agency, Invest Atlanta steps into void

By David Pendered

Invest Atlanta, the city’s development arm, plans to hire a consultant next month to sharpen Atlanta’s workforce development strategy.

The project is moving forward as the federal Department of Labor weighs evidence of possible fraud in the federally funded Atlanta Workforce Development Agency. The agency’s budget approaches $10 million a year.

Invest Atlanta distributed a request for proposals regarding the workforce strategy on March 4, according to a schedule contained in the RFP. That was a month after the Feb. 4 release of a city audit that revealed the evidence of possible fraud and recommended Atlanta’s workforce agency be discontinued.

Eleven companies have filed proposals seeking the contract, an Invest Atlanta spokesperson said Tuesday.

The RFP says nothing about the expected cost of the contract. Nor does the RFP mention how the consultant’s work product is to be implemented, or what entity would implement it, or make any mention of the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency.

Debate about the Falcons stadium waylaid the Atlanta City Council’s plans to look into the city audit on the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency. The council itself had requested the audit, in a vote taken June 20, 2012.

City Auditor Leslie Ward was slated to present the audit to the council’s Community Development Committee on Feb. 19. However, that discussion was deferred, reportedly at the request of Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration.

Atlanta COO Duriya Farooqui had received the audit in October 2012. Farooqui waited until Feb. 4 to issue her response – which refuted some of the audit’s findings and said the audit is not what she had expected.

Incidentally, the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency is housed in a bureau in the mayor’s office. The mayor chairs the board that oversees Invest Atlanta, and the mayor appoints Invest Atlanta’s president/CEO.

On Feb. 20, the stadium issue arose before the Finance Committee and the stadium dominated the landscape until the council approved a public finance package at its March 18 meeting.

Following the stadium vote, the council conducted committee meetings for a week and on April 1 began a two-week spring break. The council returned from its recess on Monday, April 15.

Invest Atlanta intends to move expeditiously to hire a consultant. Here’s the timeline contained in the RFP:

  • March 4: distribute RFP;
  • March 18: deadline for submission of questions;
  • March 25: response to questions posted on website;
  • April 5: submittals due;
  • April 30: tentative selection date;
  • May 20: work begins.

The RFP says Atlanta lost over 30,000 jobs in the recent economic downturn. Although the unemployment rate has fallen during the past year, “it still remains much higher than the national average (November 2012).”

The purpose of the contract is to generate recommendations for programs that are to ensure that Atlanta’s workforce enables the city to become more competitive in the global economy, according to the RFP.

The strategic objectives are to determine the needed skill sets; assess current skill sets; create programs to improve skill sets and match them to needs; achieve these objectives while, “ensuring sustainable funding.”

The RFP outlines a 12-step scope of work for achieving the objectives:

  • Identify and organize steering committee;
  • Analysis of needs based on industry cluster targets identified in economic development strategy;
  • Assessment of current workforce by population segment and skill-level and baseline creation;
  • Analysis of current research;
  • Facilitate meetings with focus groups and conduct stakeholder interviews;
  • Community mapping/environmental scan of job market by cluster/sector;
  • Analyze gaps in demand vs. supply by segmentation, age and skill sets and recommend solutions;
  • Analyze current workforce development services and related systems including funding mechanisms.
  • Identify gaps in workforce development services and related systems and recommend solutions;
  • Identify relevant evidence based workforce development practices/models in use nationally or opportunities to build on existing efforts and illustrate pros and cons of each;
  • Final recommendations and creation of strategy for workforce development/organizational alignment to include:
    • Identify alignment, policy, organizational and other requirements needed for implementation of recommendations;
    • Identify potential barriers and challenges to implementation with options and suggested solutions for overcoming identified barriers;
    • Identify and recommend detailed funding streams (including sources other than the usual like WIBs etc.);
    • Scenario building to develop options  for implementation;
  • One year anniversary follow-up to check on status of recommendations and implementation.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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