As a budget-balancing Congress ponders elimination of the nation's largest job-training program, federal investigators in Los Angeles are probing allegations of illegal political activities by trainees.
The results of the Los Angeles investigation may have a direct bearing on the continued existence of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA), one of the last legacies of President Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" program.
An elite US Department of Labor law enforcement task force has spent the last three weeks poring over records of two CETA programs in Los Angeles, the Center for New Corporate Priorities (CNCP) and The East Los Angeles Community Union (TELACU).
Both organizations have close links to nationally prominent political activists.
Heading the CNCP is Ruth Yannatta Goldway, a one-time official in the administration of California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. and a member of the Santa Monica City Council.
Mrs. Goldway is also closely linked to the Campaign for Economic Democracy, an organization founded by political activist Tom Hayden that has been deeply involved in rent control campaigns throughout California.
Mrs. Goldway was elected to her City Council seat last year as part of a rent control slate sponsored by the Hayden organization.
Labor Department investigators have uncovered allegations that CETA workers assigned to her center were involved in lobbying for rent control before city and county governments, and were active in at least one election campaign.
Federal law forbids political activities by trainees while on paid time.
Many of the CNCP trainees were white, young, and holders of at least one college degree -- in a program designed for providing work experience for the underprivileged.
According to a report by Los Angeles County investigators, several trainees submitted fraudulent information at the time of registration. In addition, the center assigned many of them to work with organizations active in the rent control fight, organizations closely allied to Mr. Hayden's group. Assistant US attorney Charles Pereyra has said that information uncovered by the federal agents is strong enough to merit prosecution.
TELACU, the second program under federal investigation, is largely a Hispanic coalition founded by the United Auto Workers union in 1968.
According to a confidential county memorandum that launched the federal probe , CETA workers employed at TELACU may have been involved in Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential campaign and in the re-election drive of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley the following year.
Critics point out that past and present TELACU officials have close ties to either the White House or the Democratic Party.
David Lizarraga, president of TELACU since 1975, also serves as president of Hispanic American Democrats, the Democratic Party's umbrella organization for Spanish- speaking voters. Esteban Torres, TELACU's founder and its president from 1968 to 1974, currently is the Carter administration's top White House adviser on Hispanic affairs and holds ambassadorial rank. Mr. Torres served on TELACU's board from 1975 until his White House appointment in 1979.
Many of the charges raised concerning TELACU mirror the allegations against CNCP: illegal political activities, fraudulent registration by trainees, and inadequate supervision by administrators.
Officials of both organizations have denied any misconduct.
Conducting the investigations is the Office of the Inspector General, a newly created law enforcement unit charged with investigating allegations of criminal misconduct throughout the Labor Department and the programs it administers.
Only 13 investigators are assigned to the agency's Region IX, which includes California, Nevada, Arizona, and Hawaii. In the fiscal year ending last September, 412,197 trainees were enrolled in nine different CETA programs in the region under the administration of hundreds of agencies.