Veterans' Employment and Training:

Better Targeting, Coordinating, and Reporting Needed to Enhance Program Effectiveness

GAO-13-29: Published: Dec 13, 2012. Publicly Released: Jan 10, 2013.

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What GAO Found

The six federal veterans' employment and training programs offer similar employment services, but largely target different groups. Among these programs, the Department of Labor's (Labor) Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program has the greatest potential for overlap with other veterans' programs and Labor's employment programs for the general population. Federal law governing the Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program makes all veterans who meet the broad definition of "eligible veteran" eligible for its services, but gives disabled veterans and economically and educationally disadvantaged veterans the highest priority for services. However, Labor's guidance does not provide states--who administer the program using federal funds--criteria for prioritizing services. The law also generally requires that program staff provide participants with intensive services (e.g., individual employment plans), but Labor's data indicate that nationally 28 percent of participants received such services in 2011. In explaining this statistic, Labor officials said one possible explanation was that staff are enrolling people who do not need intensive services. Labor said it plans to develop guidance on prioritizing services, and it also has a six-state pilot to improve monitoring, but neither of these efforts has been completed.

In 2008, Labor and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) compiled a handbook intended to guide the roles of their respective staff in coordinating services to disabled veterans; however, they have not updated the handbook nor included related Department of Defense (DOD) employment initiatives in their interagency agreements. GAO's interviews with VA and Labor officials identified certain challenges with meeting desired program outcomes resulting, in part, from sections of the handbook that provide insufficient guidance or are subject to misunderstanding. For example, the handbook says Labor and VA are to coordinate to achieve "suitable employment"--employment that follows the veteran's rehabilitation plan and does not aggravate the disability. However, it does not explicitly say how staff should navigate situations where a veteran's financial need or preferences do not align with this goal. In such instances, program staff may work at cross purposes and veterans may accept jobs that do not count as suitable employment. Further, DOD is expanding its employment assistance, but does not have an interagency agreement to coordinate with Labor and VA efforts. Absent an updated handbook and integration of DOD into the coordination framework, there is increased risk for poor coordination and program overlap.

While available performance information shows that most programs' outcomes are below pre-2007 levels, the information Labor reports and the research it has conducted make it difficult to know the extent to which each program is achieving its annual performance goals. Veterans' employment outcomes for programs administered by both Labor and VA have generally not regained levels seen before the recession that began in 2007, which is similar to employment programs for the general population. In reporting performance, Labor does not relate employment outcomes to individual program goals. In contrast, Labor reports outcomes and goals for its other workforce programs aimed at the general population. Moreover, while both agencies have studies completed or under way, neither has conducted impact evaluations that assess program effectiveness to determine whether outcomes are attributable to program participation and not other factors. As a result, Congress and other key stakeholders lack essential information needed to assess each program's performance. GAO is making four recommendations aimed at improving the guidance provided to staff in the coordination handbook, integrating DOD into the interagency coordination framework, improving agency reporting on achievement of program performance goals, and assessing program effectiveness.

Why GAO Did This Study

In fiscal year 2011, the federal government spent an estimated $1.2 billion on six veterans' employment and training programs, serving about 880,000 participants. Labor administers five of these programs and VA administers one. Despite these efforts, the unemployment rate for veterans who have recently separated from the military is higher than that for the civilian population. The number of service members transitioning to the civilian workforce is expected to increase. In response to a request, this report examines (1) the extent to which federal veterans' employment and training programs vary in services they deliver and veterans who receive them; (2) the extent to which federal agencies coordinate programs; and (3) what is known about the performance of these programs. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed agency data, policy documents, and relevant federal laws and regulations, reports, and studies, and interviewed federal and regional officials and state officials in six states selected to achieve geographic and demographic diversity. In examining coordination, GAO included in its review employment assistance DOD provides to Guard and Reserve members.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making four recommendations aimed at improving the guidance provided to staff in the coordination handbook, integrating DOD into the interagency coordination framework, improving agency reporting on achievement of program performance goals, and assessing program effectiveness.

For more information, contact Andrew Sherrill at (202) 512-7215 or sherrilla@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2015, the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Labor (DOL) revised the interagency handbook governing their coordination for veterans' employment and training programs. The revised guidance addresses the two problem areas identified by GAO in FY13, including incorporating labor market information (LMI) into rehabilitation plans and finding "suitable" employment for program participants. For example, the guidance outlines how VA and DOL staff should coordinate efforts to provide veterans with LMI when developing training and employment objectives and selecting training and credentialing opportunities as a part of their rehabilitation plans. Further, the handbook outlines how DOL and VA staff should deal with situations where a veteran is seeking employment that does not align with the goal of suitable employment. This updated guidance should better position VA and DOL to more effectively coordinate in serving veterans.

    Recommendation: To increase the effectiveness of coordination efforts, the Secretaries of Labor and VA should incorporate additional guidance to address the two problem areas we identified into any update to the interagency handbook that governs their coordination for veterans' employment and training programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2015, the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Labor (DOL) revised the interagency handbook governing their coordination for veterans' employment and training programs. The revised guidance addresses the two problem areas identified by GAO in FY13, including incorporating labor market information (LMI) into rehabilitation plans and finding "suitable" employment for program participants. For example, the guidance outlines how VA and DOL staff should coordinate efforts to provide veterans with LMI when developing training and employment objectives and selecting training and credentialing opportunities as a part of their rehabilitation plans. Further, the handbook outlines how DOL and VA staff should deal with situations where a veteran is seeking employment that does not align with the goal of suitable employment. This updated guidance should better position VA and DOL to more effectively coordinate in serving veterans.

    Recommendation: To increase the effectiveness of coordination efforts, the Secretaries of Labor and VA should incorporate additional guidance to address the two problem areas we identified into any update to the interagency handbook that governs their coordination for veterans' employment and training programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2015, the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Labor (DOL) updated the national Memorandum of Agreement to guide interagency coordination for veterans' employment and training programs. The MOA outlines the key elements of federal employment training initiatives and guidelines for joint interagency work group and data sharing. The MOA states that veterans participating in VA and DOL employment and training programs should be advised on the benefits of using Department of Defense (DOD) sponsored employment programs. Further, in May 2015, VA and DOL revised the interagency handbook that delineates roles and responsibilities and establishes a referral process between the VA and DOL programs. The revised handbook states that the programs will provide veteran information on DOD-sponsored employment programs and other state and federal programs such as the WIA, Heroes 2 Hired (H2H), and VA for Vets.

    Recommendation: To ensure government resources are used efficiently, the Secretaries of Labor, VA, and DOD should incorporate DOD's employment assistance initiatives into the agreements that guide interagency coordination.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2015, the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Labor (DOL) updated the national Memorandum of Agreement to guide interagency coordination for veterans' employment and training programs. The MOA outlines the key elements of federal employment and training initiatives and guidelines for joint interagency work group and data sharing. The MOA states that veterans participating in VA and DOL employment and training programs should be advised on the benefits of using Department of Defense (DOD) sponsored employment programs. Further, in May 2015, VA and DOL revised the interagency handbook that delineates roles and responsibilities and establishes a referral process between the VA and DOL programs. The revised handbook states that these programs will provide veterans information on DOD-sponsored employment programs and other state and federal programs such as the WIA, Heroes 2 Hired (H2H), and VA for Vets.

    Recommendation: To ensure government resources are used efficiently, the Secretaries of Labor, VA, and DOD should incorporate DOD's employment assistance initiatives into the agreements that guide interagency coordination.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2015, the Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Labor (DOL) updated the national Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to guide interagency coordination for veterans' employment and training programs. The MOA outlines the key elements of federal employment training initiatives and guidelines for joint interagency work group and data sharing. The MOA states that veterans participating in VA and DOL employment and training programs should be advised on the benefits of using Department of Defense (DOD) sponsored employment programs. Further, in May 2015, VA and DOL revised the interagency handbook that delineates roles and responsibilities and establishes a referral process between the VA and DOL programs. The revised handbook states that the programs will provide veteran information on DOD-sponsored employment programs and other state and federal programs such as the WIA, Heroes 2 Hired (H2H), and VA for Vets.

    Recommendation: To ensure government resources are used efficiently, the Secretaries of Labor, VA, and DOD should incorporate DOD's employment assistance initiatives into the agreements that guide interagency coordination.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In fiscal years 2014 and 2015, the Department of Labor (DOL) reported performance goals and associated outcomes for its veterans' employment and training programs. For example, in its fiscal year 2015 annual performance report, DOL reported the goals and outcomes for the percent of veterans receiving intensive services under the Jobs for Veterans State Grant. This grant provides funding for two programs: the Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program (DVOP) and the Local Veteran Employment Representative Program. For the DVOP program, DOL has reported goals and outcomes including: 1) national average six-month earnings measure (in its 2015 annual performance report); 2)national entered employment measure (in its 2014 report to Congress on veterans' services); and 3) entered employment, retention, and average earnings measures by state (on its website). For the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program, DOL also posted the goals and outcomes for the entered employment and cost per participant measures to its website for program year 2014, which ran from July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015. Finally, for the Transition Assistance Program, DOL reported in its 2015 annual performance report on its goals and outcomes for assessing the performance of facilitators who deliver the program's employment workshops.

    Recommendation: To enhance transparency and accountability for achieving results, the Secretary of Labor should consistently report both performance goals and associated performance outcomes for each of its veterans' employment and training programs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In May 2015, the Department of Labor (DOL) released the Veterans' Supplemental Study, which was conducted as a part of the DOL-funded Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) Gold Standard Evaluation. The study examined data on veterans who received services provided by the public workforce system in American Job Centers. More specifically, the study reported on differences in employment outcomes for veterans who received services from programs specifically targeted to veterans - the Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program and the Local Veterans' Employment Representative Program - and veterans who received services provided by other programs in American Job Centers. In addition, DOL awarded a contract in April 2015, to design and evaluate the impact of its employment workshop component of the Transition Assistance Program, which assists servicemembers transitioning out of the military. Data are expected to be available by fiscal year 2017. These actions will provide information on the extent to which veterans' employment programs are improving outcomes for veterans.

    Recommendation: To assess veterans' employment programs' effectiveness, Secretaries of Labor and VA should, to the extent possible, determine the extent to which veterans' employment outcomes result from program participation or are the result of other factors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has addressed GAO's December 2012 recommendation to assess program effectiveness. In March 2013, VA reported that it had completed a survey of Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service participants in the 2010 and 2012 cohorts of its longitudinal study and that a contractor was analyzing both the survey and related administrative data. The resulting report, issued in July 2013, compares the employment outcomes of program completers against those of participants who discontinued their participation. In doing so, the study statistically controls for the effects of other attributes that might have affected employment outcomes. Among other things, the study found that employment outcomes were better for program completers.

    Recommendation: To assess veterans' employment programs' effectiveness, Secretaries of Labor and VA should, to the extent possible, determine the extent to which veterans' employment outcomes result from program participation or are the result of other factors.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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