Something is seriously amiss at Tampa Bay's two CareerSource agencies, which receive millions in federal and state money to match unemployed workers with local employers. First, the agencies appear to be taking credit — and money — for job placements in which they had no part. Second, the CEO is paid far more than most other public officials in the region, a reward for achieving the very job placement numbers that are now in doubt. Closer oversight and greater accountability are clearly needed to bring this rogue agency back in line.
With more than 126,000 workers successfully placed in jobs in the last four years, CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay in Hillsborough appear to be dazzling successes. But as the Tampa Bay Times' Mark Puente reports, that grand total now looks like a work of fiction.
The nonprofit agencies, which received $32 million in fiscal year 2015-16, register job seekers in a state database and then provide them with training or other employment assistance. When those people find jobs, CareerSource can count them as successful placements in reports to the state. Puente found that CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay asked employers throughout the region to provide information on all their new hires — not just the ones placed by CareerSource — then sometimes took credit for the entire roster. No wonder the job placement figures they have been reporting to the state look so impressive.
How irregular are the two bay area agencies' practices? "We would never ask them to do that," Anthony Gagliano, with the CareerSource office in Manatee and Sarasota counties, said of asking companies to provide names, Social Security numbers, birthdates, job titles, salary and start dates on every new hire. But that's what the Pinellas and Hillsborough outfits were doing, to the great surprise of some people who landed jobs. An orthopedic surgeon who joined BayCare last year told the Times he had no idea why his name was listed in CareerSource records as a person who received their services.
Both are run by CEO Edward Peachey. He has led the Pinellas agency since 2003 and added Hillsborough's to his portfolio in 2010. In the years since, his total compensation ballooned to $291,097* in 2016, payroll records show. That's more than the salaries of either county's sheriff or county administrator. Peachey also has raised employees' salaries at the two CareerSource centers even as the demand for services has declined in the economic recovery. As job placements dropped 17 percent, Puente reported, the agencies' payroll grew by $3 million, a self-serving, unjustifiable arrangement.
Peachey wields a lot of autonomy — too much, clearly — in running CareerSource. The county commissions in Pinellas and Hillsborough play an oversight role, approving the agencies' board appointments and budgets. While Peachey has worked hard to keep outside eyes from seeing in, denying records requests and declining to provide information on board nominations, the commissions need to do more to hold him accountable. Hillsborough Commissioner Victor Crist was surprised when told Peachey's salary, even though Crist has a vote on CareerSource's budget every year. That's not adequate oversight.
Since the Times started looking into CareerSource, the state Inspector General's office has opened its own investigation. There are plenty of questions that need answering. The most important is this: Have the Tampa Bay agencies inflated figures and reaped millions in federal and state dollars while helping far fewer people find jobs than they've claimed?
* This editorial has been updated to reflect the correct compensation of CEO Edward Peachey. An earlier version stated an incorrect amount.