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LOCAL POLITICS

Supervisors vote to end contract with firm that overbilled L.A. County

L.A. County board votes to end contract with agency that overbilled by almost $1 million
LA Works provides workforce development services for L.A. County
A recent audit found that LA Works had overbilled the L.A. County Sheriff's Department by about $133,000

Los Angeles County supervisors voted to end a contract with an agency that auditors say overbilled the county by almost $1 million in handling job-training programs for jail inmates and the unemployed.

LA Works, an Irwindale-based joint-powers agency that provides workforce development services, was given a sole source contract in 2011 to teach job training and life skills classes in the jails. A recent county audit found that it had overbilled the Sheriff's Department by about $133,000 for staff time spent on non-sheriff's programs and for vacation, sick and holiday leave costs that were earned before the contract started.

A separate audit found LA Works had overbilled the county's Department of Community and Senior Services more than $850,000 on an on-the-job training program for unemployed and underemployed residents. Under that program, LA Works was to help people find jobs and would then pay a portion of their wages during their training period.

Auditors found that the agency billed the county for training people who had already been hired, including nurses making $32 an hour, which the auditors noted "is well over the self-sufficiency wage of $11.84 per hour" that is the most someone can earn and still qualify for the program.

LA Works initially argued that the on-the-job training bills were proper, but after auditors released a follow-up report, the agency changed its stance and agreed to repay the money. The agency did not dispute the overbilling in the Sheriff's Department and has repaid the money, according to an audit report.

LA Works' chief executive did not respond to a telephone call and email seeking comment Tuesday. The agency provides services to 11 cities in the San Gabriel Valley and is governed by a board made up of local officials and appointees.

The contract for programming in the jails expires this month. LA Works was the lowest bidder on a new $32-million, six-year contract to provide the services.

But county Supervisor Gloria Molina, citing the "significant and unallowable" overbilling, proposed Tuesday that the board direct the Sheriff's Department to instead negotiate a contract with the next-lowest bidder, Five Keys Charter School. Three of her four colleagues agreed. Supervisor Don Knabe was absent.

Molina chastised the Sheriff's Department for not catching the problem sooner, and Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich questioned why the contract hadn't been set up at a fixed price, as other similar county contracts are.

Glen Dragovich, Sheriff's Department division director of administrative services, said the contract had been put together quickly and as a sole source because the department was scrambling to get ready for an influx of nonviolent felons who are now sent to county jail instead of state prison.

Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, who oversees the jails, said she expected a two-week break in programs for the approximately 2,000 inmates enrolled in the LA Works classes as the department negotiates a new contract. Classes in the jails run by other providers will continue. McDonald said she didn't expect any "significant impacts to the jail population" due to the downtime.

LA Works' contract with the community services department expires at the end of next month. Department spokesman Rafael Carbajal said the agency was going through the bidding process for a new contract, but he declined to say whether LA Works is one of the bidders.

Carbajal said the department was "still assessing all potential responses" to the issues identified in the audits.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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