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Military and Veteran Support: Performance Goals Could Strengthen Programs that Help Servicemembers Obtain Civilian Employment

GAO-20-416 Published: Jul 09, 2020. Publicly Released: Jul 09, 2020.
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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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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    






   Total programs





























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.


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 – Partially Addressed
VA agreed with this recommendation. As of April 2024, VA was measuring some outcomes for the Personalized Career Planning and Guidance Program/Chapter 36 program, but had not documented performance goals or taken steps to assess the program's outcomes. For example, VA is measuring how often contractors are identifying training facilities based on a veteran's goals, but has not shown how this connects to relevant outcomes for the veteran or goals for the program. Regarding the VetSuccess on Campus program, VA told us that performance goals and outcomes depend on developing a new tracking system. There is no target completion date for this system. Regarding the Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership program, in fiscal year 2021, VA instructed program sites to update a performance monitoring database with locally-established metrics and has been monitoring these metrics each fiscal year. As of April 2024, we are keeping this recommendation open until each of the programs mentioned has completed a system for establishing performance goals and assessing outcomes.
Department of Education The Secretary of Education should develop performance goals for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant program. (Recommendation 2)
Closed – Implemented
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 Afghanistan Service Grant Program. As of November 2021, Education established a performance goal measure the timeliness of this notifications. In February 2022, Education officials informed us that they were transitioning to an automated system, which could ensure that all of the notifications were timely.
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)
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initially disagreed with this recommendation. However, as of June 2023, the Coast Guard Office of Work-Life Programs is coordinating with the Health, Safety, and Work-Life (HSWL) Service Center to develop the new instruction for Spouse Employment and to establish metrics and goals for the program. The Coast Guard noted that, once developed, it will engage labor relations to determine whether the additional workload will affect duties of the Transition/Relocation/Spouse Employment field managers significantly. We will consider closing this recommendation when the metrics are developed.

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DependentsEducational assistanceEmploymentEmployment assistanceFederal assistance programsPerformance goalsPerformance measurementProgram managementTuition assistanceVeteransVeterans employmentVeterans employment and trainingVeterans employment programs