By Sam Hananel
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A $500 million Labor Department program designed to train workers for green jobs has come up far short of its goals, with only 10 percent of participants finding work so far, the agency's assistant inspector general has found.
The report said the low rate makes it unlikely the program will meet the goal of placing nearly 80,000 workers in careers in energy efficiency or renewable energy by 2013.
"Grantees have expressed concerns that jobs have not materialized and that job placements have been fewer than expected for this point in the grant program," said the report from Assistant Inspector General Elliott Lewis.
The report comes as the Obama administration has been on the defensive about making a $528 million loan to Solyndra LLC, a now-bankrupt solar panel maker that has become a target for critics of the administration's green energy program.
The $500 million for green jobs training was part of the $787 billion stimulus act passed in 2009. Although the money was awarded in a series of grants in 2009 and 2010, only one-third has actually been spent by grantees. Lewis' report said the rate of expenditures has been decreasing. He suggested the department should consider returning unused money that may not be needed.
"At this point, there is no evidence that grantees will effectively use the funds and deliver targeted employment outcomes by the end of the grant periods," the report said.
Jane Oates, head of the department's Employment and Training Administration, strongly disagreed with the report and said she expects the number of job placements to increase in the next few months. She said the numbers were low in part because of the initial lag time in the start-up phase.
"What we've seen with these green grants is because of limited employment options, people are staying in training longer," Oates said. "I'm still optimistic that we are going to be successful with these grants."
Oates acknowledged that the economy is creating jobs at a slower-than-normal rate. But she said if grantees have not spent all the money by the deadline, the funds would be returned to the U.S. Treasury.
Another problem the report highlighted is that workers who completed training and were placed in green jobs have had trouble retaining their posts. Of the 8,035 workers placed, only 1,336 - or 2 percent of the overall target - have held those jobs for at least six months.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who requested the audit, said the report "paints a pretty bleak picture of the program's effectiveness in job creation."
"It's hard to see how leaving $300 million in unused funding for the program in the hands of the Labor Department benefits either the taxpayers or the unemployed," Grassley said.
Grassley said the administration should focus on job creation "in all sectors of the economy."
But Labor officials have insisted that green jobs are part of a future wave of growing employment needs and that it would be a mistake not to invest in training workers for those jobs now, even if the economic recovery has been slow to create new jobs in that area.
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