Published On: Thu, May 30th, 2019

Oconaluftee Jobs Corps slated to close, one of nine nationwide

 

By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.

ONE FEATHER STAFF

 

The Oconaluftee Job Corps Civilian Conversation Center (CCC) is one of nine Job Corps CCCs nationwide that is slated to close per announcements by various federal officials on Friday, May 24.  The Department of Labor is seeking comment on the proposal to close the nine Centers via a federal register posting, and all comments must be submitted by the deadline of Monday, July 1.

View the Federal Register Notice to make a comment.

In a U.S. Forest Service all-employee email, dated May 24, Forest Service Chief Victoria Christiansen wrote, “This morning, Department of Agriculture Secretary Perdue sent Department of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta a letter to request the transfer of all USDA Forest Service Job Corps Civilian Conversation Centers to the Department of Labor (DOL).  The move is part of the Secretary’s goal to make USDA the most effective, efficient, and customer-focused department in the entire federal government.”

She continued, “This transfer of operations will mostly impact employees who work in 25 of our Job Corps Centers across the country.  We will need to permanently transition the Forest Service Job Corps workforce and will seek reduction in force authority to do so.”

Christiansen noted, “The Department of Labor intends to continue the Job Corps program under a different operator at most Forest Service Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center locations except nine.”

Per a DOL press release, in addition to the Oconaluftee CCC, eight other CCCs will be “proposed for deactivation” including: Anaconda CCC in Anaconda, Mont.; Blackwell CCC in Laona, Wisc.; Cass CCC in Ozark, Ark.; Flatwoods CCC in Coeburn, Va.; Fort Simcoe CCC in White Swan, Wash.; Frenchburg CCC in Frenchburg, Ky.; Pine Knot CCC in Pine Knot, Ky.; and Timber Lake CCC in Estacada, Ore.  The release states that 16 other CCCs “will continue under a new contract operator or partnership”.

Christiansen noted in her email, “This change does not reflect the quality of your work as Forest Service employees.  We value the service and contributions Forest Service Job Corps CC has made to our mission in its decades long history.”

In a statement to the One Feather, a DOL spokesperson said, “The Department of Labor is focused on providing quality education and skills instruction to at-risk youth to become employable and be placed in meaningful in-demand jobs.”

They added, “The U.S. Department of Labor reviewed the CCCs performance and outcome measurements, internal controls, capacity and proximity, costs, and ongoing needs of each CCC against the overall Job Corps program to determine the best path forward.  At the nine centers proposed for deactivation, new student enrollment will cease and existing students will have an opportunity to complete their education and skill instruction.  For any student needing extra time to finish, Job Corps would transfer them to the closest center offering their career technical trade.  As a result of this reform, students enrolled in the Job Corps program will have higher quality services that assist them in building the skills they need to be full participants in the modern economy.”

Randy Erwin, National Federation of Federal Employees national president, reacted to the DOL’s announcement, “Labor Secretary Acosta and Agriculture Secretary Perdue have teamed up to usurp Congress by acting without proper authority or an intelligent strategy with the hope of closing these centers before the Congress can act.  Unfortunately for both Secretaries, they’ve been duped by their own people.”

He said the decision “represents government at its worst” and that the announcement to close the centers is “a politically-motivated attack that oddly enough, offends both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and in communities across the country”.

In the letter referenced above by Christiansen, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue outlined the reasons for the USDA’s shifting of the Job Corps to the Department of Labor.  “As USDA looks to the future, it is imperative that the Forest Service focus on and prioritize our core natural resource mission to improve the condition and resilience of our nation’s forests, and step away from activities and programs that are not essential to that core mission…it is my expectation that by Sept. 30, 2019, each FS Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center will be transitioned out – or on an established plant to transition out – of the Job Corps program.”

Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, is not happy with the decision to close the nine CCCs.  In a May 24 letter to Secretaries Perdue and Acosta, he wrote, “I write to express my strong objections to your irresponsible plans to close successful Job Corps Centers.  Make no mistake, this decision will lead to an immediate loss of jobs in rural America and undermine economic development in communities…”

The senator has vowed to introduction legislation to block the decision.

The Oconaluftee CCC forged recent partnerships with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (August 2017), EBCI Cooperative Extension office (September 2017), Cherokee Central Schools (August 2017), Swain County Schools (August 2017), and the Mother Town Healing Project (June 2018).  Each of those partnerships provided opportunities for the Job Corps students as well as area students and members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The One Feather sought comment from officials at the Oconaluftee CCC who had to defer comments to the USDA.

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