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Two agencies semifinalists in contest

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Two Oklahoma programs responsible for innovations in government are in the running for $100,000 awards from the Ford Foundation.

The state Department of Rehabilitation's Milestone Payment System and the OK-First Program operated by the University of Oklahoma-Oklahoma Climatological Survey are among 96 semi finalistsfor the Innovations in American Government Awards.

The Ford Foundation sponsors the awards, which are administered by Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government in partnership with the Council for Excellence in Government.

The Milestone Payment System rewrites the rules on how vendors are paid for job training. The OK-First Program provides real-time weather information to state public safety agencies in Oklahoma.

The two are among 96 semifinalists. Twenty-five finalists will be selected in September with 10 winners chosen Oct. 13 to receive $100,000 each from the Ford Foundation.

Rehabilitation Services officials were trying to revamp an inefficient payment billing system when they began evaluating how agencies were paid to find jobs for disabled clients.

Jody Harlan, department spokeswoman, said vendors were paid by the hour for training.

"What we found we got was a lot of hours of service because that was what we were rewarding," she said.

Vendors learned that they would get more money if they kept clients longer.

Under the milestone system, job training agencies receive payment after reaching certain goals. For example, there is no payment to a trainer if either the job seeker or the employer is unsatisfied with a placement. A job seeker must be retrained at no extra cost to the state until a successful job is secured.

Goodwell Industries of Tulsa Inc. revamped its job training program because of the state approach and says it has a better program now.

The program was begun in 1997.

OK-First trains public safety professionals on how to use data developed by the Oklahoma Climatological Survey and the National Weather Service.

The information allows agencies in small towns a better chance at warning people of impending severe storms.
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