By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
At the time, Houston was in limbo. Mayor Bob Lanier requested that the city be designated a "workforce-delivery area," separate and apart from the Gulf Coast board. Without actually turning down Lanier's request, Bush cited the new state law that prohibits that designation for any area smaller than a county.
For almost a year, the city and state haggled over the designation, with Lanier pointing out on numerous occasions that Bush had the authority to certify Houston as a workforce-delivery area. Apparently the governor wasn't listening. On January 9, 1996, the state law on local workforce-development boards was finalized. The following day, Lanier threw in the towel and told Bush by letter that the city would join the Gulf Coast board. However, he added, the city planned to negotiate an agreement with the 13 counties in the region that would allow Houston Works to continue to administer the JTPA funds.
While state law clearly precludes Houston from becoming its own workforce-delivery area, the city could have merged with Harris County to retain control of its job-training programs. That is, if Harris County hadn't joined the Gulf Coast board first, a surprise move that effectively forced the city to follow suit or forfeit any control over the region's funding.
"Everyone thought Harris County was going to be merging with the city of Houston, and the workforce board would manage the balance of the region," recalls Irma Gonzalez of Employment Training Centers. "It made all the sense in the world. Most of the county programs are rural in nature, and we have always felt that urban needs are much different than rural needs."
Apparently, though, county officials saw the benefits of a regional approach to job training, which presumes that both employers and unemployed workers think on a more global scale. For one thing, the legislation that broke the state into 28 service-delivery areas strongly encourages a broader view. For another, the Houston employment market does not end at the city limits and, in fact, extends well beyond the confines of Harris County.
"The city makes a strong argument that they have the bulk of the problem," says Gulf Coast board member Richard Shaw of the Harris County AFL-CIO. "The other side says the city is really a larger body, and what we're really talking about is a region, and a regional approach is best, because not everyone in the city is going to work next door."
But the $9.2 million contract recently awarded to a partnership formed by Gulf Coast Careers of Harris County and Lockheed Martin IMS wasn't simply the result of pragmatism. The deal also smells of the kind of opportunism and inside dealing that's as closely associated with Lockheed as the $640 toilet seat for which it once billed the Pentagon.
The executive director of Gulf Coast Careers is a longtime county employee named Deanie Diamond. Since 1995, Gulf Coast Careers has been receiving federal funds through the Gulf Coast Workforce Development Board to operate career centers. Like Houston Works, Gulf Coast Careers would then subcontract with nonprofits and community-based groups, who would conduct the various job-training and placement services.
In December, Diamond announced that Gulf Coast Careers was offering "partnering opportunities" to provide employment services and job training for welfare and food-stamp recipients. About a dozen organizations that have done similar work in the past for Gulf Coast Careers responded by the January 8 deadline.
But, on January 26, Diamond notified bidders that Gulf Coast Careers had chosen to partner with Lockheed Martin -- which she described as "an organization that has been successful throughout the nation in providing services in welfare-reform programs." What Diamond did not reveal was that she had accepted a job as Lockheed's local director of operations. In that capacity, she will be overseeing a subcontract with her former employer to operate Gulf Coast Career Centers for Lockheed.
In an interview with the Press, Diamond said her employment with Lockheed has no relation to the corporation's partnership with Gulf Coast Careers of Harris County. She says county commissioners made the final decision on the contract, not her.
That may be true in theory, but as director of Gulf Coast Careers, Diamond made the formal request for approval of the Lockheed partnership -- without informing commissioners that she would, in fact, be going to work for the company. In a January 28 letter to commissioners, Diamond asked for authorization to strike a "Partnership or Teaming Agreement with Lockheed Martin IMS to jointly provide services to the welfare recipients in the Gulf Coast region."
Diamond admits that Lockheed had been trying to hire her away from the county for about a year. But, she says, it's merely a coincidence that she accepted the company's offer around the same time she recommended that Harris County commissioners approve a partnership with Lockheed.
The job offer, she says, was "one of four opportunities that came my way. It just happened to come first."
Others aren't so willing to give Diamond the benefit of the doubt. Irma Gonzalez of Employment Training Centers says the news that Diamond planned to partner with Lockheed Martin IMS came so late, no one had time to form partnerships with other bidders or to apply for the funds directly.