Iowa U.S. Senator Tom Harkin responded today to the unfolding story of a pay scandal involving managers at the Central Iowa Employment and Training Consortium, known as CIETC. Harkin, a democrat, is the ranking member of the Senate committee that provides the federal funding for the program.

Harkin says he’s “outraged by this gross abuse of public funds and the betrayal of the public trust.” Harkin says CIETC’s director, Ramona Cunningham, has pleaded in the past for more money from Polk County, saying people who needed job training were being turned away because of a lack of funds. He’s also been asked to appropriate more federal money. “Now we know where that money went — it went into her personal bank account,” Harkin says.

The top two state officials involved were fired by the governor for not taking action. Harkin says he’s upset because federal officials knew about the high salaries, but didn’t take action. Harkin says the federal department of labor was apparently aware of the situation but didn’t tell him or his subcommittee. Saying he’s “dismayed” at that, Harkin says he’ll see that the Department of Labor’s Inspector General looks into the scandal and that wrongdoing is punished.

Senator Harkin says he intends to work with colleagues on the subcommittee so it can’t happen again. Harkin was asked when he found out about the problem, and says he first heard about the case over the weekend, and says he was shocked. “What do these people think?” he asks. “How can they live with themselves?” Harkin says he’s worked hard to get money for CIETC and finds it “just dismaying” that the high salaries were approved and paid.

Harkin also said he wants the federal officials involved investigated Harkin says he’s been told federal officials learned about the situation as early as sometime in 2004. “But nobody ever said anything to us about it.” He says that’s why he’s asking the Inspector General of the Department of labor to look into it.

Harkin said funding for such programs is chronically scarce and inadequate, and called it a “betrayal” that administrators of the job-training program would use the money to pay themselves”inflated and totally unjustified” salaries and bonuses.