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.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Labor (DOL) have made some progress revising interagency guidance to address the two problem areas. In September 2013, VA reported that the DOL/VA Joint Work Group had revised the interagency handbook to address the two problem areas--incorporating labor market information into rehabilitation plans and finding "suitable" employment for program participants. The agencies expect the final release of this interagency handbook to be completed by June or July 2014. We will close this recommendation when the updated guidance is completed.

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Labor (DOL) have made some progress revising interagency guidance to address the two problem areas. In September 2013, VA reported that the DOL/VA Joint Work Group had revised the interagency handbook to address the two problem areas--incorporating labor market information into rehabilitation plans and finding "suitable" employment for program participants. The agencies expect the final release of this interagency handbook to be completed by June or July 2014. Completion of the updated guidance that addresses the two problem areas GAO identified should better position VA and DOL to more effectively coordinate in serving veterans.

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Departments of Labor (DOL), Veterans Affairs (VA), and Defense (DOD) have made some progress to improve coordination, as GAO recommended in December 2012. VA reported that in February 2013, DOD briefed DOL and VA on DOD's employment initiatives. VA subsequently reported that DOD employment assistance programs have been added as a referral source in the revised draft of the DOL/VA National Memorandum of Agreement and that VA expects this document to be finalized by June 2014. Finalizing the agreement that includes DOD initiatives should better position the agencies to minimize duplicative efforts.

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Departments of Labor (DOL), Veterans Affairs (VA), and Defense (DOD) have made some progress to improve coordination. VA reported that in February 2013, DOD briefed DOL and VA on DOD's employment initiatives. VA subsequently reported that DOD employment assistance programs have been added as a referral source in the revised draft of the DOL/VA National Memorandum of Agreement and that VA expects this document to be finalized by June 2014. Finalizing the agreement that includes DOD initiatives should better position the agencies to minimize duplicative efforts. We will close this recommendation when the agreement is finalized.

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Departments of Labor (DOL), Veterans Affairs (VA), and Defense (DOD) have made some progress to improve coordination. VA reported that in February 2013, DOD briefed DOL and VA on DOD's employment initiatives. VA subsequently reported that DOD employment assistance programs have been added as a referral source in the revised draft of the DOL/VA National Memorandum of Agreement and that VA expects this document to be finalized by June 2014. We will close this recommendation when this agreement is finalized, which should better position the agencies to minimize duplicative efforts.

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: The Department of Labor (DOL) has made some progress on this recommendation. In its FY13 2013 annual report to Congress, DOL reported on some of its performance goals and associated outcomes for its Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program. In addition, for this program, DOL posted to its website the performance goals and the associated 6-month outcomes for program year 2013, which ends on June 30, 2014. DOL stated that it will post end-of-year results to its website once they become available. For its Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program, DOL also reported the performance goals on its website for program year 2013 and plans to report the associated outcomes once the information becomes available. In FY14, Labor also plans to start measuring the delivery of the employment workshop for the Transition Assistance Program. However, DOL did not report performance goals or associated outcomes for its Veterans' Workforce Investment Program and Local Veterans' Employment Representative Program in its FY13 annual report to Congress. Without information on how the outcomes for each veterans' program compare against its annual performance goals, Congress and other key stakeholders lack essential information needed to assess the performance of the programs.

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: DOL stated that as a part of an annual process, it identified possible evaluations that could be conducted. In December 2013, DOL reported that it plans to conduct an evaluation of its employment workshop component of its Transition Assistance Program, one of its employment and training programs for veterans. While this evaluation intends to separate the impact of the program from other factors that might influence participants' outcomes, DOL has not yet determined what methodology it will use to evaluate the program. In addition, DOL has not addressed whether or how it will evaluate its other veterans' employment and training programs. In the absence of an evaluation of the effectiveness of DOL's employment and training programs for veterans, it is unclear to what extent the 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 Veterans Affairs

    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.

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