Transitioning Veterans:

DOD Needs to Improve Performance Reporting and Monitoring for the Transition Assistance Program

GAO-18-23: Published: Nov 8, 2017. Publicly Released: Nov 8, 2017.

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Cindy S. Brown Barnes
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What GAO Found

In fiscal year 2016, the Department of Defense (DOD) lacked data for 48 percent of National Guard and Reserve members and 12 percent of active duty servicemembers which resulted in DOD potentially misstating performance of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) in its public reporting. Under the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, DOD must require that all eligible separating servicemembers participate in TAP, with some exceptions. However, the VOW Act compliance rates that DOD publicly reported were not based on all eligible servicemembers—they excluded servicemembers for whom DOD lacked data. For example, had DOD included all transitioning National Guard and Reserve members—including those for whom they lacked participation data—the resulting participation rate for Guard and Reserve members may have been as low as 47 percent instead of 94 percent, which DOD publicly reported in fiscal year 2016. In November 2016, DOD launched a new data collection system that officials say will improve data completeness and reporting abilities.

In fiscal year 2016, DOD met its goal of 85 percent of active duty servicemembers (i.e., not members of the National Guard and Reserves) who met VOW Act requirements and attained Career Readiness Standards, according to GAO's analysis. In order to complete TAP, servicemembers generally must participate in three required courses and have their Career Readiness Standards verified by a unit commander or designee. In addition, commanders or their designee must ensure that servicemembers who do not meet these standards are referred to staff of partner agencies, such as the Department of Labor and Department of Veterans Affairs, for additional services, commonly called a “warm handover.” However, fewer than half of all eligible servicemembers completed TAP on time—90 days or more before separation.

Percent of Servicemembers Who Completed Required Transition Assistance Program (TAP) Activities, within Selected Time Frames, Fiscal Year 2016

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DOD monitors several key areas of TAP implementation, such as TAP participation and career readiness standards rates, but not others, including timeliness of participation in required courses and access to additional classes. Regulations require DOD to ensure that servicemembers complete TAP more than 90 days before leaving the military but DOD has not monitored timeliness because it has focused on ensuring participation. Federal law also requires DOD to ensure that servicemembers who want to attend additional 2-day classes, such as on higher education, can do so. However, DOD does not require the services to document the extent to which servicemembers can access these classes. Unless DOD monitors these and other TAP requirements, it cannot ensure they have been met.

Why GAO Did This Study

Since fiscal year 2015, hundreds of thousands of servicemembers have left the military and transitioned into civilian life, with hundreds of thousands more soon to follow. To help ease their transition, pursuant to federal law DOD must require that all eligible separating servicemembers take TAP, with some exceptions. GAO's previous work on TAP implementation showed mixed results, and GAO was asked to re-examine the program.

This report examines, among other questions: 1) the extent of transparency in DOD's public performance reporting, 2) TAP participation levels and attainment of Career Readiness Standards or referrals for additional services, and 3) DOD's TAP monitoring and performance measures.

GAO surveyed all 181 installations that conduct TAP and achieved a 100 percent response rate; analyzed TAP data from fiscal year 2016; visited seven installations that reflected diversity in service, size, and geography; compared DOD's performance measures to GAO criteria; reviewed federal laws and regulations, and interviewed TAP staff, servicemembers, and DOD officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO makes six recommendations, including that DOD improve transparency in reporting TAP participation and career readiness rates and monitor certain key areas of TAP implementation. DOD generally agreed with all but the one on access to additional 2-day classes. GAO believes this recommendation is still valid as discussed in the report.

For more information, contact Cindy S. Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially agreed with this recommendation. The agency partially agreed to base its publicly reported performance on all those who are TAP-eligible or to clarify the extent of missing data. DOD said that compliance should only be computed based on data that are known, but the agency agreed that its public reports should include a description of the extent of missing data. DOD also noted that in FY17 it had disclosed the extent of missing data when reporting performance on the Transition to Veterans agency priority goal and that this will be included in all its public reporting starting in the first quarter of fiscal year 2018 and beyond. The agency indicated that it would also continue working to reduce the extent of missing data. We will consider closing this recommendation when DOD has completed these efforts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should publicly report DOD's performance regarding participation and career readiness attainment for all TAP-eligible servicemembers and members of the National Guard and Reserve rather than exclude those for whom data are missing or clarify the extent of missing data. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD agreed with this recommendation. Based on feasibility of data collection and availability of funds, DOD anticipates starting data collection in fiscal year 2019, followed by data reporting in fiscal year 2020 at the earliest. We will consider closing this recommendation when DOD begins reporting on participation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should monitor and report on the extent to which servicemembers participate in TAP within prescribed timeframes. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD disagreed with this recommendation, noting that it ensures access by offering 2-day classes both in classrooms and online. Moreover, the agency stated that the purpose of 2-day classes is to help servicemembers achieve Career Readiness Standards. However, GAO does not believe this is sufficient for DOD to know whether it is ensuring compliance with this particular law. We continue to believe that DOD needs to track whether those who elect to take these classes are able to receive the training.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should monitor and report on the extent to which servicemembers who elect to receive additional 2-day classes are able to receive the training. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD agreed with this recommendation. Based on feasibility of data collection and availability of funds, DOD anticipates starting data collection in fiscal year 2019, followed by data reporting in fiscal year 2020 at the earliest. We will close this recommendation when DOD begins reporting on attendance.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should monitor and report on the extent to which servicemembers attend TAP in a classroom setting unless allowed by regulation to participate online. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially agreed with this recommendation. DOD noted that once it has the capability to collect and report data on timeliness and extent of online and classroom participation, the military services will provide these data to commanders when feasible. DOD added that the intent of this recommendation should be met at the service level where transition staff can make this information available to commanders. Our report noted that some services share information on certain aspects of the program, such as participation and Career Readiness Standard attainment. However, DOD does not yet monitor timeliness of participation, access to 2-day classes, and online participation. Therefore, DOD is unable to share this particular information with commanders. While we understand that DOD needs to build its capability to collect these additional data, we urge DOD to disseminate this important information to commanders as soon as possible to enable them to fulfill their responsibility toward TAP compliance within their specific units. DOD did not address the monitoring and reporting of the additional 2-day classes, therefore, we urge DOD to also report data on access to the additional 2-day classes so that commanders are able to ensure compliance with all statutory TAP requirements.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should enable unit commanders and their higher-level commanders to access DOD reports on timeliness, 2-day classes, and the use of online TAP--after DOD begins monitoring and reporting this information--to help ensure the specific units they oversee are compliant with all TAP requirements. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD agreed with this recommendation. The agency stated that, by the end of FY18, it will work with the military departments and the Department of Labor to seek ways to minimize subjectivity in assessing such things as quality of the resume or job application package. This may include developing guidance on quality standards for assessing particular career readiness materials. DOD also noted that all military services have personnel at the installation level who are trained in resume writing, resume review, and career planning and that installations can also call upon their local DOL partners for further support. Finally, DOD said it was important to note that commanders be allowed to exercise their best judgment on attainment of career readiness for their servicemembers, knowing that experts are housed within the transition assistance centers at their installation and are available to assist servicemembers.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should seek ways to minimize the subjectivity involved in making career readiness determinations, particularly where judgments are involved, such as the quality of the individual transition plan and the resume. This could include developing guidance or training that provides quality standards for assessing career readiness materials. (Recommendation 6)

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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