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    Welfare coordinator wants out

    Lockheed Martin wants to end its $15-million contract with Pinellas.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 22, 2001

    A week after coming under attack from county officials, the company in charge of the Pinellas welfare system wants out.

    Lockheed Martin is "extremely disturbed" by the criticism and "acrimonious attitude" of certain county officials, and also has been asked to make "utterly unreasonable" changes to its contract, according to a letter sent Wednesday by William J. Judge Jr., a lawyer representing the company.

    "Lockheed does not feel that it has any choice but to make this termination," Judge wrote.

    County Commissioner Bob Stewart, who has been heavily involved in changes to the welfare and worker training programs, referred all questions to the county attorney when reached at his office late Wednesday.

    Lockheed Martin, better known as a defense contractor with products such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, has become a leading provider of welfare services across the nation during the past five years. In Pinellas, Lockheed oversees "one-stop centers" where people stop in for training and job listings. Hired in 1999 with a 20-month, $15-million contract, it also coordinates worker training provided by other agencies.

    But Pinellas has lagged behind other counties in some measures of performance, and county officials have grown frustrated at what they perceive as the company's disorganization and lack of commitment.

    Last week Assistant County Administrator Rick Dodge said he had tried for months, unsuccessfully, to get a list of people Lockheed had placed in jobs. "At best it's very bad record-keeping," he said then. "At worst it's something more serious." Lockheed is paid according to the number of people it helps.

    Lockheed officials had said confidentiality rules prevented them from releasing names but said the data used as the basis for their payments had been verified by others.

    Without mentioning specifics, Lockheed's letter said recent "negative public statements do not accurately relect the level of performance" the company provides.

    Lockheed's contract allows either party to terminate the contract with 90 days' notice, but the company would like to quit in 30, the letter says.

    County officials already were asking for proposals from companies or non-profit agencies interested in stepping into the job.

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