Veterans Employment: Promising VA Technology Education Pilot Would Benefit from Better Outcome Measures and Plans for Improvement

GAO-23-105343 Published: Oct 27, 2022. Publicly Released: Oct 27, 2022.
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Fast Facts

More than 6,700 veterans enrolled in a Veterans Affairs' technology education program from May 2019-May 2022. About 66% of the enrollees completed training.

But VA doesn't have a full picture of how well this pilot program is working or ways to improve it. For example, VA doesn't know why some veterans (13%) dropped out of the program. And VA can't assess how effective the program has been with helping veterans get jobs because it doesn't collect the relevant data.

VA has found some ways to improve the program, but doesn't have a way to ensure that changes are made before the pilot ends in 2 years. Our recommendations address these issues.

A person in military fatigues typing on a laptop surrounded by IT equipment.

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What GAO Found

Over 6,700 veterans enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Veterans Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) pilot program from May 2019 through May 2, 2022. They were generally more racially and ethnically diverse and more likely to have a service-connected condition, compared to working-age veterans in the U.S. population. Most veterans (66 percent) who enrolled in the program completed their training (see figure).

Fig High v01_105343

VA calculates an employment measure for certain VET TEC participants for whom VA has made a final milestone payment decision. However, VA does not calculate an employment rate for all VET TEC participants who completed the program, in accordance with other government and industry approaches. As a result, VA lacks sufficient information to compare VET TEC to other programs or to assess the effectiveness of the program at getting veterans into jobs. In addition, VA does not use all available data or collect additional data on employment outcomes. For example, VA does not use information it collects on the type of employment program participants obtain (e.g., full-time, part-time, self-employed, etc.). In addition, VA does not systematically collect data on whether veterans retain employment. Without fully using available data or collecting additional relevant data, VA does not have a full picture of VET TEC employment outcomes.

Training providers told GAO that key benefits of VET TEC include an accelerated path to employment and virtual training. Three of five training providers said VET TEC allows veterans to enter the workforce quickly. Veterans completed training in 3 months, on average, according to GAO analysis of VA data. Training providers also cited challenges with some aspects of VET TEC. For example, three training providers said they faced delays in getting their applications approved, and four training providers said some application instructions were unclear. VA has taken some steps to address these challenges, such as revising certain aspects of its training provider approval processes.

VA has identified several actions for enhancing VET TEC. Specifically, VA has identified specific areas of improvement for VET TEC, with over 80 related tasks. For example, VA is planning to develop a scorecard to assess training provider quality and update its employment certification form. However, as of May 2022, VA had not developed consistent, clear, and measurable program objectives—a leading practice of effective pilot program design. Over the course of GAO's review, VA officials provided various versions of program objectives for VET TEC that were not consistent. These objectives were also not measurable because they did not include an indicator of how VA will measure progress. As a result, assessing and evaluating VET TEC by the end of the pilot will likely be difficult for VA.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government helps veterans pursue skills needed in the civilian workforce. Specifically, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 instructed VA to develop a 5-year pilot program to help veterans obtain high-technology jobs. VA created VET TEC to support veterans who enroll in high-technology education programs through VA-approved training providers.

The act includes a provision for GAO to assess VET TEC. This report examines the (1) demographic characteristics of participants, (2) employment outcomes of participants, (3) benefits and implementation challenges reported by training providers, and (4) steps VA has taken to improve the VET TEC program.

GAO analyzed data on VET TEC participants and reviewed relevant VA documents, federal laws, and regulations. GAO interviewed VA officials and a nongeneralizable sample of approved training providers selected for variation in the number of veterans served and locations. GAO also compared VA's efforts to leading practices for effective pilot design.

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GAO is making six recommendations, including that VA develop an employment rate calculation consistent with standard approaches; determine data needed to fully inform employment outcomes; and develop clear, measurable objectives for VET TEC. VA neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation to develop a standardized employment rate calculation and generally agreed with the other recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of VA should require training providers to inform VA of the reasons why veterans drop out of the VET TEC program. (Recommendation 1)
As of June 2023, VA consulted VET TEC training providers and found that it would not require significant additional effort for training providers to provide information on the reasons students leave the program. However, VA determined that it would take until fall 2025 to implement this recommendation due to other priorities of the Digital GI Bill modernization efforts. This timeline is well after the end of the VET TEC program pilot, which ends in April 2024. GAO continues to believe this information is important to understanding outcomes of the VET TEC program pilot. However, we will continue to monitor whether the VET TEC program becomes permanent, in which case we believe VA should continue to work toward implementing this recommendation. GAO will close this recommendation once VA begins collecting this information as part of the VET TEC pilot or a permanent program.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of VA should adjust the terminology it uses to describe its current employment rate calculation to clarify that the calculation is not measuring the employment rate but is instead measuring employment at a specific payment milestone. (Recommendation 2)
Open – Partially Addressed
VA revised its terminology to describe its rate as a 180-day employment rate and explain what the calculation measures. However, we continue to believe that calling this calculation an employment rate may be misleading. We will close this recommendation once VA clarifies that it is measuring an employment outcome at a specific point in time rather than an employment rate.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of VA should develop an employment rate calculation consistent with standard approaches used by government or industry entities. (Recommendation 3)
As of June 2023, VA did not concur with this recommendation. VA conducted an environmental scan of employment rate calculations and found that the approaches it reviewed would not produce the employment outcomes that VA is looking to convey. However, VA did not include in its analysis all of the employment rate calculations our report considered, including the approach used by the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting, which specifically measures outcomes for schools providing high-technology education. We continue to believe that a standardized employment rate calculation would provide veterans with important information about the success of VET TEC at employing veterans. Such a calculation would also provide VA with information to benchmark the program against other similar programs.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of VA should use available data, determine what additional data are needed to fully inform VET TEC employment outcomes, and develop concrete time frames for collecting and reporting these data. (Recommendation 4)
As of June 2023, VA has begun to manually track data on employment information from its employment certification form and plans to fully automate collection of this data as part of the Digital GI Bill modernization effort. However, it remains unclear whether VA has determined what additional data are needed to fully inform VET TEC employment outcomes. GAO will close this recommendation once VA provides information on whether it plans to collect additional employment-related data and once the information is fully incorporated into the Digital GI Bill platform. VA has a target completion date of September 30, 2024, for this recommendation.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of VA should establish time frames for addressing actions it has identified for improving VET TEC. (Recommendation 5)
Closed – Implemented
In March 2022, VA identified 84 recommended actions or tasks for improving VET TEC. As of June 2023, VA had implemented 20 of the tasks, re-prioritized 37 tasks for completion by October 1, 2023, and determined it would not take further action on 27 actions. VA provided an implementation schedule showing due dates for actions it plans to implement.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of VA should identify and document a single set of clear, measurable objectives for the VET TEC program. (Recommendation 6)
Open – Partially Addressed
As of March 2023, VA established goals and objectives for the VET TEC pilot. In June 2023, VA had formalized a document stating the program objectives. However, it is unclear how VA plans to measure progress toward meeting the goals and objectives. We commend VA for taking steps to establish a set of objectives for the VET TEC program. We will close this recommendation once VA provides information on how these objectives will be assessed.

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