Veterans Affairs:

Improved Planning Needed to Guide Development and Implementation of Education Benefits System

GAO-07-1045: Published: Jul 31, 2007. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2007.

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The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers programs that provide educational resources to veterans, service members, reservists, and eligible family members of veterans. Under an initiative that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) began in 1999, called The Education Expert System (TEES), VA is moving its education benefits claims processing systems to new technology platforms and replacing the current systems with a new system that is to add more automated processes and eliminate most human intervention. GAO was requested to (1) report on the results of TEES development to date and identify the remaining work to complete the project, (2) identify VBA's plans for completing and implementing TEES, and (3) assess the feasibility of developing and deploying TEES before the completion of VBA's Finance and Accounting System. To accomplish these objectives, GAO analyzed relevant documentation, interviewed program and project officials, and observed processing systems at VA regional offices.

To date, as part of the TEES project, VBA has enhanced education benefits claims processing by developing certain capabilities that allow information to be captured in an electronic format. However, VBA has not taken action on various other initiatives that it identified as necessary to complete the project. These initiatives include (1) moving the functionality provided by its aging, stand-alone system used to process flight school, on-the-job training, and apprenticeship claims to a platform compliant with the department's enterprise architecture; (2) moving the processing and payment functionality used for many of the education claims from its current antiquated system to new technology; and (3) creating a rules-based claims processing system that will process all education benefits and types of training. VBA does not have an integrated project management plan for the TEES initiative. According to agency officials, a project management plan originally developed in 2001 has not been updated since 2004. Because VBA does not have an integrated project management plan, it lacks critical elements needed to effectively guide the project to completion, such as a full description of its scope; identification of stakeholders' responsibilities, documented risks, and performance metrics; and an overall approach for coordinating its various education claims improvement initiatives. Moreover, without an integrated project management plan, VBA risks initiating work that could be duplicative and overlapping. VBA's Finance and Accounting System (FAS) is substantially complete and can currently pay new compensation claims; all functionality for compensation and pension payments is scheduled to be completed by August 2008. Thus, since much of the functionality for FAS has been developed, VBA could implement a rules-based system that integrates with FAS. However, while the current strategy calls for using FAS as the payment system for TEES, the existing functional requirements for an interface between the two systems, which were developed in 2003, have not been assessed and updated. Subject matter experts needed to define business requirements for interfacing the systems have not been assigned by a key stakeholder. As a result, it is uncertain when VBA will validate and update functional requirements for the FAS interface with TEES.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA took various actions toward implementing this recommendation prior to the department terminating the project. For example, it developed the The Education Expert System (TEES) Functional Requirements Document, which included requirements to integrate TEES with the Finance and Accounting System (FAS) and established the scope of the project. The requirements were prepared with stakeholder involvement. VA also developed a detailed master schedule for TEES.

    Recommendation: To ensure the successful implementation of a system that provides consistent and effective delivery of education benefits payments, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should, before approving any new funding for TEES and related systems, direct VA's Chief Information Officer to develop a comprehensive, integrated TEES project plan that defines critical elements, including but not limited to project scope, budget, schedule, risk, planning for data management, needed knowledge and skills, and stakeholder involvement; and addresses redundancy between the requests for developing a TEES rules-based system, the department-level code conversion effort, and integration of the TEES development with FAS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Prior to terminating the The Education Expert System (TEES) project, VA took steps to ensure that duplication between TEES and other related efforts was eliminated. For example, VA's decision to not exercise an option on a code conversion contract eliminated the potential for redundancy between the contract and TEES. Also, VA combined TEES with two planned efforts to establish the VBA Rules Based Claims Processing investment for the FY 2009 budget.

    Recommendation: To ensure the successful implementation of a system that provides consistent and effective delivery of education benefits payments, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should, before approving any new funding for TEES and related systems, direct VA's Chief Information Officer to, once an integrated plan among related TEES initiatives has been completed and documented, revise the Office of Management and Budget Exhibit 300s for TEES and related efforts to ensure that duplication in efforts and budgets is eliminated and that funding is consistent with timelines.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA ensured that key stakeholders, including the Office of Resource Management, participated in the effort to re-validate The Education Expert System (TEES) requirements. The re-validated requirements document was delivered to VA in December 2008 and included functional requirements to interface TEES with the Finance and Accounting System (FAS).

    Recommendation: To ensure the successful implementation of a system that provides consistent and effective delivery of education benefits payments, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should, before approving any new funding for TEES and related systems, direct VA's Chief Information Officer to obtain stakeholders' commitment of resources to ensure that functional requirements are revalidated and updated as necessary to provide an interface between FAS and the future VBA education systems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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