Doling for dollars

The Cold War over, defense giant Lockheed Martin mines another government program for profit -- the war on poverty

This spring, a similar proposal known as TIES 97 is winding through legislative oversight subcommittees. Lockheed Martin representatives have shown up at vendor forums, but exactly how the TIES pie will be split up this time isn't clear.

What's certain is that Lockheed Martin has a history of troubled relationships with state and federal governments. When the feds bailed it out of near-bankruptcy in 1971 to the tune of $250 million, U.S. Sen. William Proxmire coined the phrase "corporate welfare." Over the years, the company has been accused of foul play, bribery schemes, and deliberate cost overruns. Lockheed Martin, indeed, was the defense contractor that produced the infamous $600 toilet seat for the Navy 13 years ago.

With its newer social-services division, Lockheed Martin is having a tough time shaking the impression that it siphons off taxpayer dollars and, in exchange, often delivers poor performance.

In Baltimore, the company won a three-year contract to collect child support. But in its first year, Lockheed Martin failed to meet performance goals. In November, the company and the state of California mutually agreed to cancel a contract for Lockheed Martin to build a computerized tracking system for collecting child support. The system's projected costs had skyrocketed--from $99 million to $277 million.

In Dallas, however, Lockheed Martin has been able to put some polish on its image. In fact, the company presents Dallas nationwide as its big success story.

In a story about the problems companies were having nationwide in privatizing welfare, Time magazine cited Lockheed Martin's work in Dallas as the exception. In the March 23 article, Time reported that the company "had placed 76 percent of its clients in new jobs paying an average of $431 a week, exceeding federal goals."

Without question, people are dropping off the welfare rolls in Dallas and throughout Texas. Since the state launched its reforms in September 1995, the number of welfare recipients has declined by 32 percent.

In 1995, some 721,700 individuals in Texas--a figure that includes children--received cash assistance, food stamps, or both. In January of this year, only 501,866 were getting such benefits. Similarly, in Dallas, some 19,000 people were receiving aid in 1995. Now only 11,400 are getting it.

But local workers at nonprofits that help the poor share a more skeptical view of Lockheed Martin's supposed success and the shrinking welfare rolls.

"In this booming economy, we could mask just about anything including World War Three," says Martha Blaine, executive director of the Community Council of Greater Dallas, a nonprofit agency that provides services to the needy. The unemployment rate in Dallas had dropped to 3.3 percent in February, almost two percentage points lower than the national average.

"Lockheed Martin gets a minimum-wage job for a mother of five, and that's a success," says Kim Olsen, an organizer at ACORN, a nonprofit organization that is trying to organize a union of welfare recipients in Dallas. Olsen says she has interviewed some 700 welfare recipients since the reforms took effect. Although she hasn't done a formal survey, Olsen believes that Lockheed Martin's tactics have left many aid recipients in the dark about benefits for which they're eligible--including educational and child-care subsidies.

Blaine has made similar observations. "There is more to this than telling them to get a job, shine their shoes, and brush their hair," she says.

Based on her own research, Blaine has concluded that those dropping off the welfare rolls are indeed going to work. She has received reports, for example, that temporary-job agencies have experienced a rise in applicants. But Blaine is concerned about the children of this new work force. "Where are the kids? We don't know," she says. She is puzzled because there hasn't been a corresponding increase in demand at child-care agencies, even though the state provides day-care subsidies for former welfare recipients in their first year off the dole.

Sandra Lamm, director of Child Care Group, the agency with which the Dallas Workforce Development Board contracts to provide this subsidized day care, is also concerned. Lamm cites an increase of 3,000 new subsidized day-care users since the reforms went into effect, but "that doesn't account for the nearly 8,000 that have dropped off the welfare rolls," she says.

The chief concern of many frontline poverty workers, however, is the lack of research on the consequences of welfare reform. No one knows for certain whether Lockheed Martin's success stories will end up back on the dole in a few years.

At its own expense, Lockheed Martin has tracked its program participants to date. Since it began its contract last year, Dallas project manager Jill Brown says, more than 70 percent of the six-day wonders have stayed off the dole.

Lockheed Martin's data, however, doesn't tell who's returning to welfare and why--potentially critical issues when the five-year lifetime cap for welfare starts playing a role.

During the second day of class, Ms. Evans teaches her students the difference between assertive, aggressive, and passive behaviors. On job interviews, she says, you want to be assertive--not aggressive.

Above all, never trash a former employer. "All you want to do in an interview," she says, "is brag about yourself."

To make sure she's nailed down the distinctions, Ms. Evans does a role-playing exercise. She asks Electra Taylor to act out a scenario in which a baby-sitter abruptly decides to quit caring for unruly children. The baby-sitter confronts the mother, who will most likely suffer consequences at work if she can't find another place to put her kids.

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