oversight

Veterans' Employment and Training Service: Focusing on Program Results to Improve Agency Performance

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-05-07.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                          United States General Accounting Office

GAO                       Testimony
                          Before the Subcommittee on Benefits, Committee on
                          Veterans’ Affairs, House of Representatives




For Release on Delivery
Expected at 8:30 a.m.
Wednesday, May 7, 1997
                          VETERANS’ EMPLOYMENT
                          AND TRAINING SERVICE

                          Focusing on Program Results to
                          Improve Agency Performance

                          Statement of Carlotta C. Joyner, Director
                          Education and Employment Issues
                          Health, Education, and Human Services Division




GAO/T-HEHS-97-129
Veterans’ Employment and Training Service:
Focusing on Program Results to Improve
Agency Performance
              Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

              We are pleased to be here today to discuss the Veterans’ Employment and
              Training Service (VETS) and its initiatives in response to the Government
              Performance and Results Act of 1993 (GPRA).

              Unemployment and underemployment have traditionally been serious
              problems for veterans. The Congress has made it clear that alleviating
              these problems is a national responsibility. Although the Department of
              Veterans Affairs is responsible for most of the nation’s services for
              veterans, the Department of Labor administers programs and other
              activities designed to help veterans find jobs and training opportunities.
              The Wagner-Peyser Act of 1933, which created a national system of public
              employment offices, specifies that veterans receive priority service and led
              to the establishment of a veterans’ bureau within the Department of Labor,
              which eventually became VETS.

              My comments today will focus on four areas: the value of GPRA in
              improving agency performance, the employment and training performance
              measures currently used in VETS, VETS’ response to GPRA, and our
              assessment of VETS’ response. The information we present is derived from
              our ongoing work for this Subcommittee regarding the veterans’
              representatives employed by the states under grants from VETS, our review
              of the agency’s draft strategic plan for fiscal years 1997 through 2002, and
              discussions with agency officials about VETS’ actions in response to GPRA.

              In summary, GPRA is a powerful tool that brings discipline to program
              management by requiring agencies to clarify their missions, establish goals
              and a strategy for reaching them, measure performance, and report on
              their accomplishments. Our work at VETS has shown that its current
              performance measures focus more on process than on results. VETS has
              now developed a draft strategic plan and performance measures,
              consistent with GPRA, and has submitted it to the Office of Management
              and Budget (OMB) for review. We believe the proposed performance
              measures for employment and training services are an improvement over
              VETS’ current approach because of their increased focus on results. But the
              plan, so far, is a draft and has not received final approval by Labor or been
              incorporated into an overall departmental strategic plan. In addition,
              development of a strategic plan and improved performance measures does
              not guarantee improved performance. Continued senior management
              commitment and effective implementation are necessary to achieve the
              improved agency performance that is envisioned by GPRA.



              Page 1                                                      GAO/T-HEHS-97-129
                 Veterans’ Employment and Training Service:
                 Focusing on Program Results to Improve
                 Agency Performance




                 The mission of the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service is to help
Background       veterans, reservists, and National Guard members in securing employment
                 and protecting their employment rights and benefits. Services provided are
                 to be consistent with the changing needs of employers and the eligible
                 veteran population, with priority given to disabled veterans and other
                 veterans with significant disadvantages in the labor market. The key
                 elements of VETS’ mission include enforcement of veterans’ preference and
                 reemployment rights, employment and training assistance, public
                 information services, interagency liaison, and training for those assisting
                 veterans.

                 VETS carries out its responsibilities through a nationwide network that
                 includes representation in each of Labor’s 10 regions and staff in each
                 state. The VETS staff at the state level monitor the operation of VETS’ two
                 primary programs providing employment and training assistance to
                 veterans: the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program (DVOP) and the Local
                 Veterans Employment Representative (LVER). DVOP and LVER staff, whose
                 positions are federally funded, are part of states’ employment service
                 systems and provide direct employment services to eligible veterans. The
                 total fiscal year 1997 appropriation for VETS was about $182 million,
                 including $82 million for DVOP specialists and $75 million for LVER staff.1

                 LVERs were first authorized under the original GI Bill, the Servicemen’s
                 Readjustment Act of 1944; DVOP specialists were established by executive
                 order in 1977 and later authorized by the Veterans’ Rehabilitation and
                 Education Amendments of 1980. The duties of DVOP and LVER staff for
                 serving veterans, as specified by law, include

             •   outreach to locate veterans,
             •   job development for veterans,
             •   networking in the community for employment and training programs,
             •   providing labor exchange services to veterans,
             •   making referrals to support services, and
             •   case management.

                 These programs are required by law to provide employment and training
                 opportunities specifically for veterans, with priority given to the needs of
                 disabled veterans and veterans of the Vietnam era. Each state is expected
                 to give priority to veterans over nonveterans for services in their state

                 1
                  VETS provides formula staffing grants to the states for LVER and DVOP staff. Its fiscal year 1997
                 appropriation is planned to fund 1,397 LVER positions and 1,598 DVOP specialists. The appropriation
                 also included about $23 million for administrative costs and $2 million for the National Veterans’
                 Training Institute, which trains service providers’ staffs and managers.



                 Page 2                                                                        GAO/T-HEHS-97-129
                       Veterans’ Employment and Training Service:
                       Focusing on Program Results to Improve
                       Agency Performance




                       employment service system. In the simplest terms, this means that the
                       local employment office is to offer or provide all services to veterans
                       before offering or providing those services to nonveterans.


                       The Government Performance and Results Act of 1993 is the centerpiece
Managing for Results   of a statutory framework provided by recent legislation to bring needed
                       discipline to federal agencies’ management activities. Other elements are
                       the 1990 Chief Financial Officers Act, the 1995 Paperwork Reduction Act,
                       and the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act. These laws each responded to a need for
                       accurate, reliable information for executive branch and congressional
                       decision-making. In combination, they provide a framework for developing
                       (1) fully integrated information about an agency’s mission and strategic
                       priorities, (2) performance data to evaluate the achievement of these
                       goals, (3) the relationship of information technology investments to the
                       achievement of performance goals, and (4) accurate and audited financial
                       information about the costs of achieving the goals.

                       GPRA is aimed at improving performance. It does so by prompting each
                       major federal agency to ask some basic questions: What is our mission?
                       What are our goals and how will we achieve them? How can we measure
                       our performance? How will we use that information to make
                       improvements? GPRA forces a shift in the focus of federal agencies away
                       from such traditional concerns as staffing and activity levels and toward a
                       single overriding issue—results.

                       GPRA  requires that agencies clearly define their missions; establish
                       long-term strategic goals, as well as annual goals linked to them; measure
                       their performance against the goals they have set; and report on how well
                       they are doing. In addition to ongoing performance monitoring, agencies
                       are also expected to perform discrete evaluations of their programs and to
                       use information obtained from these evaluations to improve the programs.
                       Each agency’s strategic plan—laying out its mission, long-term goals, and
                       strategies for achieving these goals—must be submitted to OMB and the
                       Congress by September 30, 1997. To help ensure that these plans reflect
                       the views, as appropriate, of the Congress and other stakeholders, GPRA
                       requires that, as agencies develop their strategic plans, they consult with
                       the Congress and solicit the views of other stakeholders. Next, beginning
                       with fiscal year 1999, executive agencies are to use their strategic plans to
                       prepare annual performance plans. These performance plans are to
                       include annual goals linked to the activities displayed in budget
                       presentations as well as the indicators the agency will use to measure



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                      Veterans’ Employment and Training Service:
                      Focusing on Program Results to Improve
                      Agency Performance




                      performance against the results-oriented goals. Agencies are subsequently
                      to report each year on the extent to which goals were met, provide an
                      explanation if these goals were not met, and present the actions needed to
                      meet any unmet goals.

                      Over the last few years, we have done a large body of work on
                      management and operational issues across agencies and levels of
                      government.2 For example, we have studied leading public sector
                      organizations that successfully pursued management reform initiatives
                      and became more results-oriented. This work has identified principles and
                      approaches that may be helpful to agencies and the Congress in carrying
                      out the activities set out by GPRA, such as developing strategic plans
                      through consultation with stakeholders and selecting performance
                      measures that are results-oriented and can be used to improve agency
                      performance.


                      In our ongoing work on the activities of DVOP and LVER staff for this
Current Performance   Subcommittee, we have learned that VETS’ performance measures are
Measures              focused more on process than on results, and performance is evaluated
                      only in relative, not absolute, terms. VETS uses 14 performance standards in
                      five service categories: (1) veterans placed in or obtaining employment,
                      (2) Vietnam-era veterans and special disabled veterans3 placed in jobs with
                      federal contractors, (3) veterans counseled, (4) veterans placed in training,
                      and (5) veterans who received some reportable service. The first two,
                      which concern job placement, are results-oriented, but they do not require
                      information about the quality of the job placement, such as wages and
                      benefits, or whether the jobs are permanent.

                      The Assistant Secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training, in
                      directing VETS field staff and state partners to provide input regarding the
                      development, piloting, and evaluation of new performance measurement
                      systems, characterized VETS’ current system as having been developed
                      more than a decade ago with little or no change since then. He also noted

                      2
                       See, for example, Executive Guide: Effectively Implementing the Government Performance and
                      Results Act (GAO/GGD-96-118, June 1996), Managing for Results: Using GPRA to Assist Congressional
                      and Executive Branch Decisionmaking (GAO/T-GGD-97-43, Feb. 12, 1997), Managing for Results:
                      Enhancing the Usefulness of GPRA Consultations Between the Executive Branch and Congress
                      (GAO/T-GGD-97-56, Mar. 10, 1997), and Agencies’ Strategic Plans Under GPRA: Key Questions to
                      Facilitate Congressional Review (GAO/GGD-10.1.16, May 1997).
                      3
                       A special disabled veteran is (1) a veteran who is entitled to compensation (or who, but for the receipt
                      of military retired pay, would be entitled to compensation) under laws administered by the
                      Department of Veterans Affairs for a disability rated at 30 percent or more or (2) a person who was
                      discharged or released from active duty because of a service-connected disability.



                      Page 4                                                                           GAO/T-HEHS-97-129
Veterans’ Employment and Training Service:
Focusing on Program Results to Improve
Agency Performance




that these performance standards are activity- and volume-driven and
provide states little incentive to focus services on those veterans who are
marginally job-ready or are most in need of intensive employability
development services. In addition, he did not believe the current
performance measures provided useful information on the impact of
services on veterans served.

In each of the five service categories, performance is measured in terms of
priority given to veterans compared with nonveterans in the services
provided by the states’ employment service system. The minimum goals
established by VETS state that veterans should be served at a rate
exceeding the service to nonveterans. Veterans and eligible persons
should be served at a rate 15 percent higher than nonveterans; Vietnam-era
veterans should be served at a rate 20 percent higher; disabled veterans
should be served at a rate 25 percent higher; and placement rates for
special disabled veterans should also be 25 percent higher than the rate for
other clients relative to jobs listed by federal contractors.4 For example, in
one state, the placement rate for nonveterans was 14.65 percent; thus, the
required placement rate for veterans was 16.85 percent, or 15 percent
higher than the nonveteran placement rate. The state-by-state measures
are based on providing a higher level of services to veterans than
nonveterans rather than on establishing any goal for an absolute level of
performance. Thus, a state with poor services to nonveterans would be
held to a low standard for service to veterans.

According to VETS directives, failure to meet one or more of the
quantitative performance standards does not itself constitute failure to
provide priority services to veterans. State VETS directors identify other
factors that may affect the delivery of quality services before making any
noncompliance determinations.

VETS is required to report annually to the Congress on the success of the
states in meeting their performance standards with regard to veterans’
services. Although VETS has up-to-date quarterly data on states’
performance, annual reports for fiscal years 1994, 1995, and 1996 have not
yet been submitted to the Congress. These reports would document the
states’ annual performance against their standards. According to a draft of
the 1994 annual report, VETS determined that all but 14 states met all of
their performance standards during program year 1993 (July 1, 1993,
through June 30, 1994). Of these, 11 states were able to show good cause
for their inability to meet the standards (California, Iowa, Kansas,

4
 These rates may vary from state to state because states may negotiate higher rates.



Page 5                                                                          GAO/T-HEHS-97-129
                    Veterans’ Employment and Training Service:
                    Focusing on Program Results to Improve
                    Agency Performance




                    Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Virginia,
                    West Virginia, and Wisconsin). The remaining states—Ohio, Nebraska, and
                    the District of Columbia—provided VETS with an acceptable corrective
                    action plan.


                    The current version of the draft plan has been submitted to OMB for review
VETS’ Response to   and is to be finalized on the basis of OMB’s and other stakeholders’
GPRA Includes       comments. The plan includes mission and vision statements; strategic
Proposed New        goals and objectives; specific performance measures; and discussions of
                    the relationship between the general goals and annual performance goals.
Performance         The draft plan also discusses VETS’ strategy to reach its goals and key
Measures            factors likely to affect its ability to do so. The plan also lists relevant
                    stakeholders, including the Employment and Training Administration
                    within Labor, congressional committees, veterans service organizations,
                    and the Interstate Conference of Employment Security Agencies. No
                    specific reference to the Department of Veterans Affairs as a stakeholder
                    is included in the draft plan.

                    The draft plan identifies goals and objectives for each element of its
                    mission: enforcement, employment and training assistance, public
                    information services, interagency liaison, and training. But it notes that the
                    greatest challenge faced by VETS in implementing GPRA is setting forth
                    appropriate outcome measures for the public employment service
                    agencies. One reason for this difficulty, the plan notes, is that
                    technological advances are changing the labor exchange environment as
                    more employers and job seekers use personal computers, electronic
                    bulletin boards, and websites to announce job openings and apply for jobs.
                    Without the opportunity to register job seekers, the public employment
                    service system loses its ability to measure the numbers of individual job
                    seekers who benefit from its services. As a result, whereas in the past VETS
                    relied on a relatively simple measure of “priority”—comparison of the
                    rates of service achieved for registered veterans with the rates achieved
                    for registered nonveterans—such measures will no longer completely
                    reflect the actual services provided if a significant number of users are not
                    being registered and counted. As a partial response to this challenge, VETS
                    is proposing to measure results through population sampling and
                    postservice studies as well as data collected at the employment service
                    office.

                    The new set of measures for employment and training services continues
                    to reflect a mixture of activity measures, such as “received counseling or



                    Page 6                                                      GAO/T-HEHS-97-129
               Veterans’ Employment and Training Service:
               Focusing on Program Results to Improve
               Agency Performance




               vocational guidance,” and results measures, such as “entered
               employment.” New measures, however, go beyond measures of immediate
               outcome to include the average wage of those who entered employment
               and a 2-year follow-up measure.

               In addition to comparing the results for veterans with those for
               nonveterans, the plan describes measures that apparently will be tracked
               for veterans independent of the results for nonveterans. This focus would
               allow VETS to emphasize providing services that lead to high levels of
               results for veterans in all locations, without setting a lower standard for
               the results expected for veterans in states with a less effective
               employment service.


               The draft plan represents an improvement over the current employment
Conclusions    and training performance measures, because the performance measures in
               the plan put a greater emphasis on results and will provide information on
               absolute levels of performance for veterans as well as a comparison with
               nonveterans. But VETS still must collect the necessary performance data
               and use that information to focus its efforts on improving the results of its
               activities. Strong commitment of the political and senior career leadership
               will be essential to ensure that the agency’s strategic planning and
               performance measurement efforts will become the basis for its day-to-day
               operations.


               Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I will be happy to
               answer any questions that you or members of the Subcommittee may have.


               For more information on this testimony, please contact Sigurd R. Nilsen at
Contributors   (202) 512-7003 or Betty S. Clark at (617) 565-7524. Denise D. Hunter also
               contributed to this statement.




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