Veterans' Reemployment Rights:

Department of Labor and Office of Special Counsel Need to Take Additional Steps to Ensure Demonstration Project Data Integrity

GAO-12-860R: Published: Sep 10, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 2012.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Yvonne D. Jones
(202) 512-2717
jonesy@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

DOL and OSC began the USERRA demonstration project on August 9, 2011, meeting the time frame (within 60 days of our report on the project's design) required by the VBA. From August 9, 2011, to May 9, 2012, DOL has received 87 USERRA demonstration project cases and OSC has received 123 cases. The data reported in this study cover only 9 months of the demonstration project and do not represent the overall results of the 36-month project nor are we drawing any conclusions of the relative performance at either agency. As both agencies continue to collect and track data, we will be able to provide an in-depth evaluation of relative performance. We did not report customer satisfaction survey data in this assessment due to the short amount of time the survey has been available to claimants and the low survey response rate. Also, while both agencies track time spent on cases on an ongoing basis, OSC only compiles cost data on those cases that have been closed while DOL compiles cost data on open and closed cases. Therefore, we plan to evaluate and compare the relative cost data during later assessments of the demonstration project.

Why GAO Did This Study

Congress enacted the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) to protect the employment and reemployment rights of federal and nonfederal employees when they leave their employment to perform military or other uniformed service and return to civilian employment after that service. Among other rights, servicemembers who meet the statutory requirements are entitled to reinstatement to the positions they would have held if they had never left their employment or to positions of similar seniority, status, and pay. With the drawdown in Iraq complete and the drawdown in Afghanistan underway, thousands of current and former military servicemembers are undergoing a transition from their military service back to their civilian employment, thereby increasing the importance of USERRA to help facilitate this transition. Under USERRA, an employee or applicant for employment who believes that his or her USERRA rights have been violated may file a claim with the Department of Labor's (DOL) Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS), which investigates and attempts to resolve the claim. If DOL's VETS cannot resolve the claim and the servicemember is a federal government employee or applicant to a federal agency, DOL is to inform the claimant of the right to have his or her claim referred to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) for further review and possible OSC representation before the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) or that they may file a complaint directly with the MSPB.

For more information, please contact Yvonne D. Jones at (202) 512-2717 or jonesy@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2013, the Department of Labor (DOL), through its agreement with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), acting as survey administrator, started notifying claimants of the customer satisfaction survey when a claim is submitted, in addition to sending claimants a notification of the survey at the conclusion of the case and two follow-ups reminders, which DOL did prior to our recommendation. In addition, in April 2013, OPM completed a nonresponse analysis of customer satisfaction survey data for DOL and the Office of Special Counsel.

    Recommendation: To ensure that customer satisfaction survey data provides value when reviewing the relative performance of DOL and OSC during the demonstration project, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Veterans' Employment and Training to, and the Special Counsel should, working with OPM, (1) consider additional efforts to increase the response rate, such as but not limited to additional follow-ups, contacting the claimant via other modes, or notifying the claimant of the survey initially when investigating the claim, and (2) conduct a nonresponse analysis to account for any response bias in the survey data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2013, the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), through its agreement with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), acting as survey administrator, started notifying claimants of the customer satisfaction survey when a claim is submitted, in addition to sending claimants a notification of the survey at the conclusion of the case and two follow-ups reminders, which OSC did prior to our recommendation. In addition, in April 2013, OPM completed a nonresponse analysis of customer satisfaction survey data for OSC and the Department of Labor.

    Recommendation: To ensure that customer satisfaction survey data provides value when reviewing the relative performance of DOL and OSC during the demonstration project, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Veterans' Employment and Training to, and the Special Counsel should, working with OPM, (1) consider additional efforts to increase the response rate, such as but not limited to additional follow-ups, contacting the claimant via other modes, or notifying the claimant of the survey initially when investigating the claim, and (2) conduct a nonresponse analysis to account for any response bias in the survey data.

    Agency Affected: Office of Special Counsel

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In July 2013, the Department of Labor (DOL) established and documented procedures for checking the compilation of cost data for the demonstration project, including quarterly audits of demonstration project time and cost data, and procedures for compiling salary, benefits, and office space cost data for demonstration project cases.

    Recommendation: To ensure that both agencies present reliable cost data for USERRA demonstration project cases going forward, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Veterans' Employment and Training to, and the Special Counsel should, establish and document procedures for checking the compilation of cost data when they report it during the demonstration project.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: According to Office of Special Counsel (OSC) officials, OSC established procedures for compiling its cost data, but did not document them. OSC officials stated that the agency held a training session with staff to discuss the method that OSC staff would use to track and report the time and costs associated with demonstration project cases.

    Recommendation: To ensure that both agencies present reliable cost data for USERRA demonstration project cases going forward, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Veterans' Employment and Training to, and the Special Counsel should, establish and document procedures for checking the compilation of cost data when they report it during the demonstration project.

    Agency Affected: Office of Special Counsel

 

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