Fast Facts

Across the federal government, 45 programs provide servicemembers, veterans, spouses, and dependents with help establishing civilian careers, including education and employment services.

The programs frequently provided similar services to similar populations. For example, 25 programs offered educational counseling. The programs reported efforts to coordinate activities, such as co-locating educational and career counseling services.

Eight of the programs reported having no goals that define program achievements. We made 3 recommendations, including that agencies develop goals to better monitor program performance.

A Transition Assistance Program class helps members of the U.S. Army transition to civilian life after service.

Servicemembers in a classroom

Servicemembers in a classroom

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The 45 federal programs that provided career assistance to military families were administered by 11 agencies and frequently provided similar services to similar populations, based on GAO's analysis of survey data; however, the programs reported coordinating in various ways to manage overlap and fragmentation. All 11 agencies administered programs for veterans and seven agencies also administered programs for servicemembers (see table below). These programs offered similar services, such as 25 programs that offered educational counseling and 22 programs that offered employment counseling. Coordination efforts included co-located services, participant referrals, and interagency agreements to share information.

Number of Career Assistance Programs for Military Families by Federal Agency Administering, Fiscal Year 2017

Population served    

    DOD

    VA

   SBA

    DHS

    Other

   Total programs

Servicemembers

10

9

5

3

3

30

Veterans

4

12

5

4

9

34

Spouses

4

7

4

3

1

19

Dependents

2

7

3

2

2

16

Source: GAO analysis of survey data reported by administering agencies. | GAO-20-416

Note: Programs may serve more than one population type: servicemembers, veterans, spouses, and dependents. DOD = Department of Defense, VA = Department of Veterans Affairs, SBA = Small Business Administration, DHS = Department of Homeland Security: Coast Guard, Other = Departments of Agriculture, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Labor, and State, and Office of Personnel Management.

Agencies varied in the extent to which they assessed the effectiveness of their programs. Eight of 45 programs reported having no goals that define program achievements. Also, while the majority of programs reported having either tracked outcomes or conducted recent evaluations, nine of 45 programs reported taking neither step. According to agency officials, these programs had not assessed outcomes for various reasons, such as that the program was relatively small, not statutorily required to set performance goals, or lacked a data collection system to track outcomes. However, by establishing a system to define goals and assess outcomes—leading practices for monitoring program performance—agencies are better able to demonstrate whether programs are achieving their intended results and ensure resources are being appropriately targeted to provide career assistance to military families.

Why GAO Did This Study

Roughly 250,000 servicemembers transition from military to civilian life every year, and 45 programs across the federal government facilitate their civilian employment, according to a previous GAO survey. These programs provide military families—servicemembers, veterans, spouses, and dependents—with a range of career assistance in the form of education, employment, and self-employment services. The conference report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 included a provision for GAO to assess some of these benefits and programs.

This report examines (1) the extent to which programs provided similar services to similar populations and how agencies coordinate to manage any overlap and fragmentation, and (2) agency efforts to assess program effectiveness.

GAO analyzed responses to its 2018 survey of federal agency officials. The survey was administered during previous work to develop a program inventory. GAO also categorized programs by the populations served and services provided.

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Recommendations

GAO makes three recommendations for agencies to develop performance goals and assess program outcomes. The agencies generally agreed with GAO's recommendations, but DHS did not. GAO maintains that developing performance goals and outcome measures would help DHS make resource determinations and achieve program purposes.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should incorporate key elements of a performance assessment system, such as establishing performance goals and taking steps to assess outcomes, for the Educational and Vocational Counseling (or Chapter 36), Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership, and VetSuccess on Campus programs. (Recommendation 1)
Open
VA agreed with this recommendation. To develop performance and outcome goals for Educational and Vocational Counseling (or Chapter 36), VA said that it is moving the program to its Office of Transition and Economic Development, expected to be completed by October 2020. This office would draft potential performance measures which would also require a new information technology solution to track the measures, which could take up to 3 years. In addition, VA will develop a protocol of having each of its local sites set appropriate metrics annually for the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership program. The protocol will include a plan for VA to review the local metrics and is planned for completion by December 2021. To assess outcomes for the VetSucess on Campus program, VA said that program counselors would have to assume the role of traditional case managers, which would likely result in the need for additional funding and staffing. VA also said it would need to leverage its case management system being developed for Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment counselors, which is estimated to take up to 3 years. Our report noted that other programs of various sizes and service delivery models have developed outcome measures for similar populations, which may facilitate VA's implementation of this recommendation.
Department of Education The Secretary of Education should develop performance goals for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant program. (Recommendation 2)
Open
Education concurred with this recommendation. Specifically, Education said that it will begin tracking how quickly it notifies applicants for federal student aid of their eligibility for the program. As of February, 2021, Education had implemented these metrics and planned to use them as a baseline to determine whether any process improvements are needed to ensure that benefits are received in a timely manner. When Education develops performance goals for the program that allow it to assess or demonstrate the degree to which desired results are achieved, we will consider this recommendation closed.
United States Coast Guard The Commandant of the Coast Guard should develop formal performance goals and measures for its Spouse Employment Assistance Program. (Recommendation 3)
Open
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) disagreed with this recommendation. The agency stated that the program is not statutorily mandated, and that the Coast Guard cannot justify creating performance goals or metrics for a program that is not required, especially given limited personnel and budget resources available for meeting primary mission needs. However, DHS said that the Coast Guard will continue providing employment assistance services to eligible spouses to the maximum extent possible within its current resource limitations. We believe that, regardless of whether the program is statutorily mandated, setting program goals is part of effective program management and DHS' assertion of scarce resources available for Coast Guard's program makes it all the more imperative that it develop goals and measures. Information about how well this program is performing would help the Coast Guard objectively determine if the current strategy and related resources are the most efficient and effective approach for achieving its intended purposes.

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