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Cheaper waste: Manchester's Job Corps center

April 26. 2013 12:45AM

Manchester is going to get a federal Job Corps Center. That is the bad news. The good news is that it will cost millions less than it was going to cost, thanks to New Hampshire contractors who challenged the construction requirements in court.

First the bad news. Job Corps is a federal job-training program for young people. It spent $1.7 billion in 2010, and several audits of its performance have found poor results. For instance, a 2011 Department of Labor review found that Job Corps vastly overstated its effectiveness (counting fast-food jobs that required no job training as successful job placement, for example) and understated its costs (by as much as $50,000 per student, according to one measure). It is an inefficient, less-than-effective federal program that will occupy a prime tract of Manchester land, thus wasting tax dollars while producing no property tax revenue for the city.

Now, the good news. The center itself will cost $31.5 million, much less than anticipated. That is because the federal government removed from this project President Obama's 2009 mandate that it be constructed under a Project Labor Agreement. A PLA is a requirement that contractors comply with labor union dictates on pay, benefits, working conditions, etc. They produce large cost increases for big construction projects.

In this case, the PLA basically gave New Hampshire unions control of the project's contracts. North Branch Construction in Concord sued, backed by the Associated Builders and Contractors of New Hampshire (ABC) and New Hampshire Republicans in Congress. The Obama administration finally agreed to remove the PLA, and this week the Labor Department announced that Eckman Construction of Bedford was the winning bidder. Its bid was $6 million less than the previous lowest bid, according to the ABC.

So taxpayers have saved millions and a New Hampshire firm that uses a lot of New Hampshire labor is the winning bidder. It is too bad we are expanding this wasteful federal program. But at least we're doing so a little more cheaply.

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