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.

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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).

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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)
VA agreed in principle with this recommendation. VA noted that it requires training providers to submit a change in enrollment status in VA's online enrollment system, at which point a training provider can complete a field in the system that includes six pre-populated reasons for terminating a veteran's enrollment prior to course completion related to unsatisfactory attendance, conduct, or academic progress. VA acknowledged that there may be additional reasons why a veteran might drop out of VET TEC that are not captured in this field. VA further noted that training providers are required to provide information to VA on the reason a veteran was dropped from the rolls due to unsatisfactory attendance, conduct, or academic progress. However, in April 2022, VA officials told us training providers were not required to complete this optional field when withdrawing or terminating a veteran's enrollment prior to completion. VA officials also did not indicate that they collect information on reasons for early termination from other sources. We continue to support this recommendation to ensure that VA can identify and address potential vulnerabilities in the program during the pilot phase.
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)
VA agreed with this recommendation. We will monitor the agency's progress to implement it.
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)
VA neither agreed nor disagreed with this recommendation. Agency officials stated that VA plans to conduct an environmental scan of employment rate calculations used in similar programs to determine whether it should develop such a calculation for VET TEC. VA further stated that the employment rate measures highlighted in our report exclude certain populations and are, therefore, not comparable to VET TEC. However, as noted in the report, these measures are comparable. For example, while the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR) excludes individuals who did not intend to find employment before starting a program, this is likely not applicable to VET TEC. By definition, VET TEC is a job-training program, so individuals presumably enroll to find employment. Ultimately, CIRR's calculation accounts for all individuals who completed a program and planned to find work whereas VA's current calculation does not. We encourage VA to prioritize the calculation of a standardized employment rate in order to share information in a manner that is commonly understood and to allow VA to compare VET TEC outcomes to other programs and measures.
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)
VA agreed with this recommendation. We will monitor the agency's progress to implement it.
Department of Veterans Affairs The Secretary of VA should establish time frames for addressing actions it has identified for improving VET TEC. (Recommendation 5)
VA agreed with this recommendation. We will monitor the agency's progress to implement it.
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)
VA agreed with this recommendation. We will monitor the agency's progress to implement it.

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