Veterans' Employment and Training Service: Strategic and Performance Plans Lack Vision and Clarity

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-07-29.

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

                          United States General Accounting Office

GAO                       Testimony
                          Before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations,
                          Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, House of Representatives

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m.
Thursday, July 29, 1999
                          VETERANS’ EMPLOYMENT
                          AND TRAINING SERVICE

                          Strategic and Performance Plans
                          Lack Vision and Clarity

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

Veterans’ Employment and Training Service:
Strategic and Performance Plans Lack
Vision and Clarity
              Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

              Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the Veterans’ Employment
              and Training Service (VETS) and its planning activities under the
              Government Performance and Results Act of 1993.

              The Congress has made it clear that alleviating unemployment and
              underemployment among veterans 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 VETS and other
              programs and activities designed to help veterans obtain employment and
              training. Recently, policymakers have focused increased attention on VETS
              and its programs. For example, in January 1999, the Congressional
              Commission on Servicemembers and Veterans Transition Assistance
              issued a report that raised serious concerns about the performance and
              effectiveness of VETS’ programs.1 The Commission’s report made a number
              of recommendations, including that the Congress establish effective
              operational outcome measures for VETS. The Congress has also been
              interested in addressing the employment needs of the entire American
              workforce, including veterans. For example, to streamline the delivery of
              services of the nation’s workforce development systems, the Congress
              passed the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA). By establishing
              one-stop career centers, among other actions, WIA will affect how VETS will
              serve veterans in the future.

              My comments today will focus on (1) our observations on VETS’ strategic
              plan for fiscal years 1999 through 2004 and (2) our observations on VETS’
              fiscal year 2000 performance plan. My testimony is based on our review of
              VETS’ most current strategic plan (revised as of May 1999) and VETS’ fiscal
              year 2000 annual performance plan, discussions with agency officials
              about those plans, our review of VETS’ fiscal year 1999 performance plan,2
              and our comprehensive 1997 report on VETS’ grant programs.3

              In summary, while including each of the basic components required by the
              Results Act, VETS’ May 1999 revised strategic plan and its fiscal year 2000

               The Commission, established as part of the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 1996, was directed
              by the Congress to review programs that provide benefits and services to veterans and service
              members making the transition to civilian life. Report of the Congressional Commission on
              Servicemembers and Veterans Transition Assistance (Arlington, Va.: Jan. 14, 1999).
               Veterans’ Employment and Training Service: Assessment of the Fiscal Year 1999 Performance Plan
              (GAO/HEHS-98-240R, Sept. 30, 1998).
               Veterans’ Employment and Training: Services Provided by Labor Department Programs
              (GAO/HEHS-98-7, Oct. 17, 1997).

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                performance plan lack vision and clarity and do not clearly identify what
                the program is to achieve and the direction the agency intends to take. For
                example, the strategic plan includes a mission statement and associated
                strategic goals; yet neither are clearly conveyed, making it difficult to
                understand where VETS is trying to go and how it is planning to get there.
                Similarly, we found that VETS’ annual performance plan provides only a
                limited picture of the agency’s intended performance for fiscal year 2000.
                The planning and communication framework established by the Results
                Act gives VETS an opportunity to discuss its responsibilities and how it
                intends to fulfill them, describe areas for improvement, and discuss steps
                it will take to improve its performance. But VETS has not taken full
                advantage of this opportunity. Its strategic and performance plans fail to
                address how it will help shape the way employment services are delivered
                to veterans and, in particular, how it will adapt to the new employment
                training environment being created by technological changes and WIA.

                VETS administers national programs intended to ensure that veterans
Background      receive priority in employment and training opportunities. VETS assists
                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’ services include enforcement of veterans’ preference and
                reemployment rights, employment and training assistance, public
                information services, interagency liaison, and training for those assisting
                veterans. VETS’ programs are included among those affected by the recent
                passage of WIA. In addition, the agency has prepared plans in accordance
                with the requirements of the Results Act.

VETS Programs   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 Veteran’s Outreach Program (DVOP) specialists 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. States’ employment service systems were established by the
                Wagner-Peyser Act of 1933. Under the act, funds are allocated to each

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    state to plan and administer a labor exchange program that meets the
    needs of the states’ employers and job seekers. Labor’s Employment and
    Training Administration (ETA) provides general direction, funding, and
    oversight of states’ employment service systems. The total fiscal year 1999
    appropriation for VETS was about $183 million, including $80 million for
    DVOP specialists and $77 million for LVER staff. These funds are expected to
    pay for about 1,400 DVOP positions and 1,300 LVER positions. The
    appropriation also included about $24 million for administrative costs and
    $2 million for the National Veterans’ Training Institute, which trains DVOPs,
    LVERs, and others.

    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

•   developing jobs for veterans,
•   networking in the community for employment and training programs,
•   providing labor exchange services to veterans,
•   making referrals to support services, and
•   providing case management.

    The DVOP and LVER programs provide employment and training
    opportunities specifically for veterans, giving priority to the needs of
    disabled veterans and veterans who served during the Vietnam era
    (generally August 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975). States are expected to give
    priority to veterans over nonveterans for services in their state
    employment service systems. In the simplest terms, this means that local
    employment offices are to offer or provide all services to veterans before
    offering or providing those services to nonveterans. To monitor the
    programs, VETS has established and used for several years internal
    performance standards to determine state compliance with requirements
    to give employment services to veterans. These standards of performance
    evaluate states in five service categories: (1) veterans placed in or
    obtaining employment;4 (2) Vietnam-era veterans and special disabled

     Labor defines “placed in employment” as the hiring by the employer of veterans referred by a state
    employment office, and “obtaining employment” as individuals who secure employment within 90
    days of receiving services from the state employment offices.

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                           veterans5 placed in jobs on the Federal Contractor Job Listing; (3) veterans
                           counseled; (4) veterans placed in training; and (5) veterans who received
                           some reportable service, such as job referrals. To ensure priority service
                           to veterans, VETS expects veteran applicants to be served at a rate
                           exceeding the service to nonveteran applicants. According to VETS’ internal
                           performance standards, veterans and other eligible people6 should be
                           served at a rate 15-percent higher than nonveterans, Vietnam-era veterans
                           at a rate 20-percent higher, and disabled veterans at a rate 25-percent
                           higher; and the placement rates for special disabled veterans in jobs listed
                           by federal contractors should also be 25-percent higher than the rate for
                           nonveterans. Thus, if a state’s placement rate for nonveterans is
                           10 percent, the placement rate for veterans should be 11.5, or 15-percent
                           higher than the nonveteran placement rate.

                           In our past reviews of VETS’ programs, we have pointed out that the use of
                           such standards results in states with poor levels of service to nonveterans
                           being held to lower standards for service to veterans than states with
                           better overall performance. In addition, while the first two of the five
                           performance standards are results-oriented, they do not require
                           information about the quality of job placements, such as wages and
                           benefits, or whether jobs are permanent—that is, employment expected to
                           last longer than 150 days. The remaining three 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.

Workforce Investment Act   VETS will be affected by WIA, which streamlines the delivery of workforce
                           preparation and employment services. Under the act, each local area will
                           be required to establish, by July 1, 2000, a one-stop career center that
                           includes access to services provided under multiple programs. These
                           one-stop career centers are intended to provide customers convenient
                           access to employment, education, training, and information services that,
                           in the past, have often been provided at separate locations and were based
                           on customer characteristics such as income or employment status.
                           Because DVOP and LVER staff are a part of the employment services, VETS’
                           current service delivery methods will be affected. In establishing these

                            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, as defined in title 38
                           of the United States Code.
                            Certain nonveterans who are dependents of veterans are also eligible for priority service, as provided
                           for in title 38 of the United States Code.

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                       one-stop centers, some states are adopting universal service delivery
                       approaches that involve assigning a single center staff member to provide
                       services offered under multiple programs to center customers. Because
                       DVOP and LVER staff can only provide assistance to veterans, and because
                       their roles in one-stop centers were not specifically addressed in WIA, it is
                       unclear how they will function with regard to new one-stop career centers.

Managing for Results   The Results Act seeks to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and public
                       accountability of federal agencies as well as to improve congressional
                       decisionmaking. It aims to do so by promoting a focus on program results
                       and providing the Congress with more objective information on the
                       achievement of statutory goals than was previously available. The act
                       outlines a series of steps whereby agencies are required to identify their
                       goals, measure performance, and report on the degree to which those
                       goals were met. Accordingly, executive branch agencies were required to
                       submit the first of their strategic plans to the Office of Management and
                       Budget (OMB) and the Congress in September 1997 and their first annual
                       performance plans in the spring of 1998. Agencies have recently submitted
                       their second annual performance plans. Starting in March 2000, each
                       agency is to submit a report comparing its performance for the previous
                       fiscal year with the goals in its annual performance plan. Although not
                       required by the Results Act, Labor’s component agencies, such as VETS,
                       also have prepared strategic and performance plans at the direction of the
                       Secretary of Labor.

                       The Results Act required agencies to submit the first of their strategic
                       plans to the Congress in September 1997. The strategic plans are to
                       provide a long-term view (5 years) of the direction an agency is planning to
                       take. To help delineate this direction, the strategic plans are expected to
                       contain six key elements: (1) a comprehensive agency mission statement,
                       (2) strategic goals and objectives for all major functions and operations,
                       (3) approaches or strategies and the resources needed to achieve the goals
                       and objectives, (4) a description of the relationship between the long-term
                       goals and objectives and the annual performance goals, (5) an
                       identification of key factors external to the agency and beyond its control
                       that could significantly affect the achievement of the strategic goals, and
                       (6) a description of how program evaluations were used to establish or
                       revise strategic goals and a schedule for future program evaluations.

                       The Results Act also required that agencies, building upon the decisions
                       made as part of the strategic planning process, develop annual

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                          performance plans covering each program activity set forth in their
                          budgets. The objective of this requirement was to establish a connection
                          between the long-term strategic goals outlined in the strategic plans and
                          the day-to-day activities of managers and staff. Performance plans are to
                          include annual performance goals linked to the activities displayed in
                          budget presentations as well as the indicators the agency will use to
                          measure performance against the results-oriented goals. Agencies are then
                          to report each year on the extent to which they met these goals, provide an
                          explanation if they did not meet these goals, and present the actions
                          needed to meet any unmet goals.

                          VETS’ May 1999 revised strategic plan included the basic components
VETS’ Revised             required by the Results Act, but it is not well organized, and important
Strategic Plan            information included in the plan is not clearly articulated. Such drawbacks
Addresses Statutory       make it difficult to understand what the agency hopes to achieve over the
                          5-year period. For example, while the revised plan includes strategies
Requirements but          intended to achieve goals, many of the strategies presented do not
Could Better Convey       describe the steps VETS will take and the needed resources and technology.
Its Mission and How It
Will Be Achieved
Comprehensive Mission     In its revised plan, VETS includes a mission statement that reflects its major
Statement and Strategic   statutory responsibilities and presents related strategic goals, which are
Goals Need Improvement    aligned with Labor’s departmentwide strategic goals.7 However, both its
                          mission statement and its strategic goals could be improved in important
                          ways. While VETS’ mission statement, “to help veterans, reservists, and
                          National Guard members in securing employment, training, and the rights
                          and benefits associated with their military service,” describes its
                          significant statutory responsibilities, the statement itself does not convey
                          the specific outcomes or results associated with accomplishing VETS’
                          mission. For example, VETS officials recently briefed congressional staff on
                          their revised plan and noted that, among other things, the agency intends
                          to promote the economic security of veterans. Such an outcome—once
                          economic security is further defined—is more results-oriented, and the
                          agency’s mission statement could be improved by incorporating this and
                          other such outcomes. By broadening its mission statement in this way,
                          VETS would better communicate what it hopes to accomplish. VETS could
                          also improve its mission statement by including information that would

                           Labor’s three strategic goals are (1) A Prepared Workforce: Enhance opportunities for America’s
                          workforce, (2) A Secure Workforce: Promote the economic security of workers and families, and
                          (3) Quality Workplaces: Foster quality workplaces that are safe, healthy, and fair.

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describe how its mission is different from other agencies with similar
missions or activities—that is, what makes VETS’ employment,
enforcement, and other activities unique.

To help guide the agency toward accomplishing its mission, VETS presents
three strategic goals in its plan:

1. Give veterans maximum employment and training opportunities within
the workforce.

2. Assist veterans, reservists, and National Guard members so that they do
not lose private (non-VA) pension rights or benefits because of military
service or required training.

3. Reduce discrimination toward veterans in the workplace arising from
military service, service-connected disability, or National Guard and
reserve training.

In general, VETS’ three strategic goals (1) are not clearly articulated or
expressed in a manner that allows for future assessment and (2) are not
sufficiently explained so that plan readers can understand VETS’ rationale
for developing and pursuing them. For example, with respect to the first
strategic goal, the plan does not elaborate on how VETS would measure and
quantify maximum opportunities in the workforce.

VETS’ second strategic goal—protecting veterans’ private pension
rights—appears to be addressing an underlying problem or issue, but it is
unclear what the problem is and how prevalent it may be. VETS’ plan does
not discuss why the agency has developed this goal, nor does it clearly
convey the general course of action VETS is taking to ameliorate the
problem. Moreover, this goal does not reflect the importance of the
employer population and its role and needed support. If the goal was
broadened and stated more positively, for example, “to increase veterans’
awareness and understanding of their nonmilitary pension rights and to
increase employers’ understanding and support of these rights,” then the
reader might more easily understand what VETS is trying to achieve.

Similarly, VETS’ third strategic goal—relating to reducing discrimination
toward veterans—while being results-oriented and measurable in some
form, is not accompanied by any additional information needed to
understand the extent of the problem. An accompanying discussion would

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                              help the reader link the strategic goal to VETS’ mission statement as well as
                              understand the extent of the problem.

Discussion on Strategies to   For each strategic goal, VETS lists related performance goals and strategies
Achieve Goals Is Vague        describing how the agency will accomplish its goals. In many cases,
                              however, VETS appears to confuse goals with strategies—that is, it
                              confuses where it wants to go with how it will get there. For example,
                              under its first strategic goal, VETS has a performance goal to “implement a
                              Life Long Learning system to ensure individuals entering military service
                              acquire or develop the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to achieve
                              economic security that eliminates new homelessness or economically
                              disadvantaged veterans.” First, it is not clear whether this responsibility
                              even falls within VETS’ purview; it is also not clear whether this is actually a
                              goal or a means to achieve a goal.

                              In addition, a discussion of VETS’ relationships with other Department of
                              Labor agencies is largely missing from the plan, even though, in some
                              cases, VETS relies on them or could work with them in achieving its goals.
                              For example, ETA provides much of the data VETS needs to measure
                              program performance, but the plan includes little information on how VETS
                              plans to work with ETA to obtain these data. Another Labor agency, the
                              Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration (PWBA), should be a
                              stakeholder and included in VETS’ strategic plan, especially in light of VETS’
                              strategic goal to ensure veterans’ pension rights. PWBA has oversight
                              responsibilities for the nation’s private pension plans, and we believe that
                              recognition of PWBA’s responsibilities and potential for collaboration
                              should be discussed in the plan. Developing an effective working
                              relationship with PWBA would likely further VETS’ goal of protecting
                              veterans’ private pension rights.

Key External Factors That     Agencies are required to state in their plans external factors that are
May Affect Agency             beyond their control, in this way identifying, in advance, possible reasons
Performance Are Not           it may be difficult to achieve some strategic goals and helping agencies
                              devise approaches for overcoming them. However, the plan does not
Clearly Explained             clearly explain for many of the factors how they could affect VETS’ ability
                              to meet its goals. In addition, VETS lists as external some factors that are
                              internal and over which the agency has some control. For example,
                              “continuing changes at the state level of the employment delivery system
                              will make it difficult for VETS to effectively predict or plan for specific
                              outcomes for veterans” is described as an external factor beyond the

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                         agency’s control. It would be helpful, however, to acknowledge that these
                         changes are to some extent within the agency’s control, to detail the kinds
                         of changes expected, and to explain what the effects of these changes
                         might be. Because VETS’ own programs are a part of this very delivery
                         system, it is surprising to see such a statement cited in a list of factors
                         beyond agency control. In fact, planning for outcomes while changes
                         continue to occur in the state employment delivery system is critical; we
                         believe this is an area that should be addressed more fully in the plan’s
                         goals and strategies.

Purpose of Program       VETS’ section on program evaluations—which include assessments of the
Evaluations Is Unclear   implementation and results of programs, operating policies, and
                         practices—is not clearly presented and does not include a schedule
                         outlining future evaluations. It is difficult to discern from the discussion
                         what VETS is trying to achieve with its evaluations and what it plans to do
                         in the future. For example, VETS states that “to address the issue of job
                         stability or advancement over time, VETS will investigate more efficient
                         ways of collecting baseline data and measuring results over time. By fiscal
                         year 2000, the means to obtain this information, whether through survey or
                         other approach, should be in place to provide the longitudinal information
                         sought.” It would be helpful if the description more clearly addressed
                         what the issue is, what the purpose of the data would be, who would
                         conduct the evaluation, and when it would actually occur.

                         VETS’ fiscal year 2000 performance plan is the agency’s second such plan
VETS’ Annual             prepared under the Results Act. While the plan shows improvement in
Performance Plan         some ways over VETS’ first such plan, the fiscal year 2000 plan could still be
Could Be Improved        improved significantly. Among the plan’s strengths are that its annual
                         performance goals are aligned with the agency’s mission and with Labor’s
Significantly            departmentwide strategic goals. For example, its annual performance goal
                         of assisting 300,000 veterans to find jobs is aligned with its mission, which
                         includes providing veterans with employment and training assistance. But
                         like VETS’ first performance plan, the fiscal year 2000 plan provides (1) only
                         a limited picture of intended performance across the agency, (2) an
                         incomplete discussion of strategies and resources VETS will use to achieve
                         its goals, and (3) limited confidence that agency performance information
                         will be credible. For example, although the plan indirectly states that VETS’
                         strategic goals include helping young, minority, and women veterans to get
                         jobs, the plan does not include any annual performance goals related to

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                                 this effort. The plan’s major strengths and key weaknesses are the

                                 Major Strengths:

                             •   Agency’s goals are aligned with Labor’s departmentwide goals.
                             •   Performance goals are aligned with agency’s mission.

                                 Key Weaknesses:

                             •   Performance goals are inadequate to ensure progress toward achieving
                                 strategic goals.
                             •   Performance indicators will not adequately measure progress toward
                                 some goals.
                             •   Plan provides no or few details concerning strategies for achieving
                                 performance goals.
                             •   Plan provides limited confidence that performance information will be

VETS’ Performance Plan           While VETS’ performance plan includes goals designed to address critical
Provides a Limited Picture       program areas, overall the plan does not give a clear picture of intended
of Intended Performance          performance across the agency or its programs. VETS’ plan includes seven
                                 performance goals that are mission-related and linked to two of VETS’ three
Across the Agency                strategic goals; in turn, these performance goals are linked to a
                                 departmentwide strategic goal. Four of the seven performance goals are
                                 intended to track progress toward VETS’ first strategic goal of helping
                                 veterans to find jobs. One goal, for example, is to “assist 300,000 veterans
                                 to find jobs; 9,000 will be service-connected disabled veterans, and 3,500
                                 will be veterans who are homeless.” The goal, which is linked to VETS’ first
                                 strategic goal, is also linked to Labor’s departmentwide strategic goal of
                                 enhancing opportunities for America’s workforce. But despite an
                                 explanation in the plan that this strategic goal includes helping those
                                 veterans with disproportionately high unemployment rates—young,
                                 minority, and women veterans in particular—none of the four
                                 performance goals aligned with this strategic goal focuses on these
                                 veterans. As a result, VETS’ plan does not encourage program performance
                                 that leads to achieving this aspect of its strategic goal. Of the plan’s seven
                                 goals, the three remaining performance goals are all linked to VETS’ third
                                 strategic goal and are, in turn, similarly linked to a departmentwide
                                 strategic goal. However, a major plan deficiency is that it does not contain
                                 any annual performance goals to track progress toward VETS’ second

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                           strategic goal, thus there is no indication of how VETS will assess its
                           performance of ensuring that private pension rights are protected.

                           While VETS has identified performance measures for each of its
                           performance goals—an improvement from its fiscal year 1999 plan—some
                           of the performance measures will not adequately indicate progress toward
                           achieving VETS’ goals. For example, one performance goal linked to VETS’
                           third strategic goal is to “increase veteran and federal agency awareness
                           of federal veterans’ preference rights.” VETS plans to measure progress
                           toward meeting this goal by the number of contacts made with federal
                           agencies. While the number of contacts made with federal agencies may be
                           a reasonable measure for indicating the extent of agencies’ awareness, it
                           may not adequately measure any progress toward increasing employees’
                           own awareness of their rights. In addition, unlike its first plan, VETS’ fiscal
                           year 2000 performance plan does not discuss any of the performance
                           measurement challenges it faces as a result of states’ increasing use of
                           technology. VETS prior plan noted that many job-ready applicants are
                           increasingly able to conduct electronic job searches at state employment
                           service agencies, or remotely via the Internet, without first registering.
                           Without registering users, states and VETS are unable to easily determine
                           the number of veterans who are assisted in finding jobs. While VETS stated
                           in its first plan that it may need to explore alternative performance
                           measures in light of this change, the fiscal year 2000 performance plan
                           does not, nor does the plan include any revised or new performance goals
                           or measures that recognize such challenges.

VETS’ Performance Plan     Similar to our observations about its first plan, VETS’ fiscal year 2000 plan
Provides a Limited         (1) gives few or no details on its strategies for achieving VETS’ goals and
Discussion of Strategies   (2) does not explain how Results Act goals will be integrated with the
                           performance standards VETS has traditionally set for states. As a result, the
and Resources the Agency   plan does not clearly convey how VETS will achieve its goals. For example,
Will Use to Achieve Its    throughout its plan, VETS labels several statements as strategies that are
Performance Goals          not strategies—that is, the operational processes, skills, technology, and
                           resources that it will use to achieve its goals. One such statement is: “The
                           Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program is a grants-to-State program
                           authorized by Section 4103A of Title 38, United States Code.” Obviously,
                           this is not a strategy. In other cases, VETS’ plan contains no discussion of
                           strategies for dealing with significant changes to its operating
                           environment, such as those now under way as a result of WIA. While VETS’
                           plan acknowledges that one-stop career centers will become much more
                           prevalent during fiscal year 2000, it provides no strategies for dealing with

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the potential consequences. One such consequence includes increasing
constraints on state agencies’ staffing resources. For example, because
one-stop career centers consolidate multiple workforce development
programs, including unemployment insurance and employment services,
some state agencies are cross-training their staffs to administer multiple
programs. However, the statutory provisions do not allow VETS-funded
DVOP and LVER staff from performing other than specified duties and
serving people other than veterans. VETS’ plan does not discuss such
constraints or present any strategies for dealing with them, such as
working with the Congress to determine whether legislative or regulatory
changes are needed to better serve veterans.

In addition, VETS’ fiscal year 2000 plan does not discuss any strategies for
integrating or reconciling VETS’ Results Act performance goals with the
performance standards it sets for states. The current activity- and
volume-driven nature of its state performance standards, in addition to
becoming increasingly difficult to measure, may serve as a disincentive for
states to assist those veterans who require more intensive services. At the
same time, some of VETS’ Results Act performance goals consist of
outcomes for hard-to-serve veterans, such as the goal to help 3,500
veterans each year who are homeless find jobs that lead to careers.
Without a detailed strategy for addressing how it plans to hold states
accountable for meeting multiple and potentially conflicting performance
standards and goals, VETS may be unable to realize its own intended

In some cases, VETS’ fiscal year 2000 plan provides more detailed
discussions of strategies VETS plans to pursue to achieve its goals than did
its fiscal year 1999 plan. For example, in discussing its fiscal year 2000
budget priorities, VETS describes a strategy of developing a database
containing the names of federal contractors and other employers along
with other information such as the employers’ standard industrial
classification codes, recent hiring activity, and human resource personnel.
This strategy, according to the plan, will allow DVOP and LVER staff to better
identify potential employers for veterans by, among other things, making it
easier to match veterans’ skills to those required by local employers. VETS
could improve its performance plan by presenting its other strategies in a
similar manner—that is, by providing enough information for readers to
understand what the agency plans to do, how it will do it, and how this will
help achieve VETS’ goals.

Page 12                                                     GAO/T-HEHS-99-177
                          Veterans’ Employment and Training Service:
                          Strategic and Performance Plans Lack
                          Vision and Clarity

VETS’ Performance Plan    Overall, VETS’ fiscal year 2000 performance plan offers little confidence
Does Not Promote          that the agency’s performance information will be credible, a problem we
Confidence That Agency    also noted in assessing its fiscal year 1999 plan. According to the
                          performance plan, VETS will largely rely on its state directors for verifying
Performance Information   and validating performance data. The plan also states that “VETS will utilize
Will Be Credible          internal control procedures to verify and validate data.” The plan gives no
                          further information, however, that would allow readers to judge whether
                          such procedures are sufficient to ensure that VETS’ data will accurately or
                          reliably measure progress toward achieving performance goals. Additional
                          information, such as a description of the information systems from which
                          VETS will obtain its performance data, as well as clarifying what VETS’
                          internal control procedures are, would assist plan readers in rendering a

                          While VETS’ strategic and performance plans address many of the technical
Conclusion                elements required by the Results Act, the plans fail to address most of the
                          requirements in a clear, comprehensive, and meaningful manner. Thus,
                          instead of presenting a road map of where the agency is headed and how it
                          expects to get there, the plans present a muddled picture of its future
                          direction. In essence, the plans miss the main point of the Results Act,
                          which is to produce clearly identified programmatic results via detailed
                          strategies. As written, the plans do not suggest with any degree of
                          confidence that VETS officials have a coherent end result in mind. In our
                          view, much more work is needed to demonstrate that the programs are
                          being managed for results, thereby enabling the Congress to assess
                          progress and identify areas needing improvement.

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

                          For future contacts regarding this testimony, please call Cynthia M.
GAO Contact and           Fagnoni, Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues, at
Acknowledgments           (202) 512-7215. Individuals who made key contributions to this statement
                          were Sigurd Nilsen, Jeff Appel, Valerie Rogers, and Julie Straus.

                          Page 13                                                     GAO/T-HEHS-99-177
Page 14   GAO/T-HEHS-99-177
Page 15   GAO/T-HEHS-99-177
Related GAO Products

              Agency Performance Plans: Examples of Practices That Can Improve
              Usefulness to Decisionmakers (GAO/GGD/AIMD-99-69, Feb. 26, 1999).

              Veterans’ Employment and Training Service: Assessment of the Fiscal Year
              1999 Performance Plan (GAO/HEHS-98-240R, Sept. 30, 1998).

              Results Act: Observations on Labor’s Fiscal Year 1999 Performance Plan
              (GAO/HEHS-98-175R, June 4, 1998).

              Agencies’ Annual Performance Plans Under the Results Act: An
              Assessment Guide to Facilitate Congressional Decisionmaking
              (GAO/GGD/AIMD-10.1.18, Feb. 1998).

              Managing For Results: Agencies’ Annual Performance Plans Can Help
              Address Strategic Planning Challenges (GAO/GGD-98-44, Jan. 30, 1998).

              Veteran’s Employment and Training: Services Provided by Labor
              Department Programs (GAO/HEHS-98-7, Oct. 17, 1997).

              Veterans’ Employment and Training Service: Focusing on Program Results
              to Improve Agency Performance (GAO/T-HEHS-97-129, May 7, 1997).

              Agencies’ Strategic Plans Under GPRA: Key Questions to Facilitate
              Congressional Review (GAO/GGD-10.1.16, May 1997).

(205500)      Page 16                                                  GAO/T-HEHS-99-177
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