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Feds probed IDOT spending on youth jobs program, audit reveals

Updated: April 30, 2012 5:04PM

SPRINGFIELD — The state’s transportation department was being investigated by the feds for spending over $7 million on a youth employment initiative created by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a state audit released Monday said.

Calling the program “ill-conceived and mismanaged,” the report from the Office of the Executive Inspector General knocked the Illinois Department of Transportation for using road money to pay for odd-jobs done by student workers, and indicated that a federal investigation into the matter was active as of December 2010.

The inspector general’s office also criticized the department for authorizing millions in payments after signs of mismanagement became apparent and failing to ensure that youth workers were performing transportation-related work, as stipulated by agency agreements and state law.

The transportation department itself said it overpaid for the work by over $643,000, and is seeking reimbursement from the non-profit organizations it paid to hire the workers and administer the program.

“We do believe that the intentions of the program were good,” said Guy Tridgell, a spokesman for the transportation department. He added, however, that it “was probably not a good idea” to make the transportation department responsible for funding the program while the Department of Human Services selected which non-profits to hire.

Under the program, workers between the ages of 13 and 22 were brought on to perform tasks focusing on community service, highway beautification and job training. The program began in July 2008 and ran for eight weeks, and an estimated 2,847 youth workers were paid for their services.

However, in need of a cash infusion before the program started, the governor’s office recruited the transportation department to help with payments, and pressured the department to keep paying from the fund designated for transportation-related work only.

The report found that the tasks were frequently vague or else unrelated to transportation.

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