All in a Day's Work

Lockheed Martin's welfare-reform efforts have cost taxpayers across the country millions. So naturally, Lockheed Martin has been hired to train and find jobs for the poor in Houston and Harris County.

Still, the organization has refused to back off; nor, in the view of union president Linda Herrera, can it afford to.

"Lockheed has been disappointed with what they've accomplished so far in Texas," Herrera says. "But they keep pushing for more and more contracts."

How many more the corporation gets will ultimately be determined by how well it performs. But apparently, the standards by which Lockheed's performance will be measured have yet to be worked out -- and may not be by the time the corporation's first contract with the Gulf Coast board goes into effect June 1.

Rodney Bradshaw, an official with the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which administers the Gulf Coast board's contracts, says the contract is still being negotiated, and no decision has been made on performance measures. Carol Anderson, a Lockheed project manager, says the company is angling for a series of incentives.

"We'd prefer a performance-based contract," Anderson says. "I think we'd work better and more efficiently that way."

No matter what standards Lockheed is ultimately held to, almost everyone agrees that simply counting the number of people who fall off the welfare rolls is a poor way to measure performance.

With a federal law that limits lifetime benefits to five years, putting people into dead-end jobs or training programs that teach skills that are not needed will only exacerbate the problem down the road. The results of welfare reform in other cities and states suggest that connecting welfare recipients to meaningful jobs is not as easy as some people seem to think.

In New York, a recent study found that only 29 percent of the people who dropped off the state's rapidly shrinking welfare rolls found full-time or part-time jobs in the first few months after they were no longer on public assistance. The study has raised questions about the value of tough welfare-to-work provisions like those being implemented by private companies in Texas.

"The easiest thing to count is the number of people on the rolls," says Michael Bisesi of the United Way. "The ultimate question is what happens to people once they are off welfare. I think we're very lucky that we have a pretty good economy right now, but inevitably the business cycle runs its course, and if all these help-wanted signs go down, which they will, what's going to happen to those people who have managed to land jobs right now?"

What kind of job-training or employment is found for Houston's poor is a concern to those who worry that the city has lost significant control of its job-training funds. But, apparently, that is not a concern of the administration of Mayor Lee Brown. According to Brown's executive assistant, Al Calloway, the mayor has chosen to allow the agreement with Houston Works to expire, as stipulated, come July 1.

"It's very difficult for us to maintain control and still remain within the terms of our agreement with the Gulf Coast workforce board and state law," Calloway says. "But, if we become isolated or find that our constituents are not being served, we won't hesitate to step in."

However, community-based service providers like Irma Gonzalez of Employment Training Centers say that the city is taking a chance by letting its job-training funds get away. Especially since, if either the Gulf Coast board or Lockheed Martin fails to look out for the best interests of welfare recipients who want to work, there may be no one left to do it.

"The issue is not for-profit versus nonprofit, or even privatization, as much as it is organizations that have roots in the community, know the people it proposes to service and have obligations, moral or otherwise," Gonzalez says. "We take this very, very seriously. This is our livelihood. It's not like we can go to work in some other state or for some other branch of government.

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