Photo by khalilshah on Flickr.

Last December, Mayor Vincent Gray announced that a centerpiece of his administration, One City One Hire, had helped over 5,100 unemployed DC residents find jobs.  According to a former official at the Department of Employment Services, this figure includes every DC resident hired under the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit program.

A One City One Hire briefing document that was presented to the mayor last December shows that 30% of the 5,100 hires were made through this federal program. 

Officials from the Department of Employment Services (DOES) say that it is fair to take credit for these hires, because they are educating employers on the availability of the federal tax credit.  However, a spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, whose Hire One Atlanta program was the model for Gray’s initiative, said they do not include all hires made with federal tax credits in their metrics.

One City One Hire metrics are important

One City One Hire is a initiative of DOES that matches work ready DC residents with jobs. 

DOES encourages unemployed DC residents to enter their resume into the One City One Hire web site.  DOES staff then proactively engage “hiring partners” to consider qualified applicants from their system while informing them of available hiring credits.

The program makes sense, as I explained last year while praising Gray for One City One Hire.  Often employers don’t consider unemployed DC job applicants because of stereotypes about their work readiness.  It makes sense for DOES to step in and vouch for truly work-ready DC residents.

Furthermore, Gray set a goal for DOES to place 10,000 jobless DC residents into jobs through One City One Hire.  Achieving that goal would make a real dent in DC’s jobless crisis, which exceeds 20% unemployment in parts of the city east of the Anacostia River. 

Relying only on matching work-ready individuals with jobs would likely be insufficient to reach this goal.  As a result, reaching this goal would require reform of DC’s workforce development system that removes barriers to employment for those who are not work-ready.

A former DOES official, different from the former DOES official who provided the One City One Hire briefing document, provided documents previously to Greater Greater Washington that show that few job seekers are getting the intensive services they need from DOES to become work-ready.

DC claiming credit for federal program, Atlanta is not

By allowing One City One Hire to claim credit for hires by employers with whom DOES has no relationship, however, the Gray Administration is more likely to achieve it’s goal of 10,000 hires without making a significant dent in unemployment or reforming DC’s workforce development system.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is a credit that employers receive on their federal payroll taxes when they hire certain classes of individuals.  Unemployed veterans, unemployed ex-convicts and long-term welfare recipients are included in the program.

The Washington City Paper first reported in January that a senior DOES official claimed many of the hires attributed to One City One Hire were simply hires that resulted in a WOTC tax credit.  The official said at the time, “These programs are doing the same things and getting the same results.”

Mayoral spokesperson Pedro Ribeiro defended claiming credit for these hires because WOTC “is a tool that states use.”  Through One City One Hire “we use tax credits, reimbursements, and all kinds of other tools to get folks employed.”

According to interim DOES Chief of Staff Liz DeBarros, “When we came into office, there was a 2½ year backlog in processing WOTC requests through DOES” and there was insufficient “education of employers that it was available.”  DOES under the Gray administration is now educating employers on WOTC and processing requests more quickly.

She said that it’s fair, as a result, to claim credit for all hires that resulted in a WOTC tax credit for the employer.

Atlanta Mayoral spokesperson Reese McCranie, however, said that the Hire One Atlanta program on which One City One Hire was modeled does not include all hires that resulted in a WOTC tax credit for the employer.

Employers who partner with the City of Atlanta self-report their hires of unemployed Atlanta residents to Hire One Atlanta, and the Society for Human Resource Professionals provides 3rd party validation of the hires.

Mayor Gray has been criticized for announcing more goals - around sustainability, economic development, education - than accomplishments.  Greater Greater Washington contributors have defended the mayor’s practice of setting goals, because goals matter.  They allow for accountability that leads to reform.

But that assumes that the metrics used by the Gray Administration are fair and measure what everyone assumes they are measuring.  But that’s not always happening.

Gray set a goal of universal pre-k availability, for example, but then permitted a formula for calculating availability that will always show universal availability.  One City One Hire is also using a metric that is biased in favor of showing progress towards the goal of the program.

Goals matter, but only if the metrics are fair.  That’s why the Gray Administration should be explicit about how it measures progress towards each of its goals.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son.  Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America.