SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
Page 1 TOP OF DOCGOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE AND RESULTS ACT STRATEGIES FOR BOTH THE VETERANS BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION'S EDUCATION SERVICE AND THE VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION AND COUNSELING SERVICES
THURSDAY, JUNE 5, 1997
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Benefits,
Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 9:30 a.m., in room 334, Cannon House Office Building, Hon. Jack Quinn (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Present: Representatives Quinn, Filner, Mascara, Reyes, and Evans.
OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN QUINN
Mr. QUINN. Good morning, everybody. The subcommittee will come to order, and I have a statement that I will submit for the record, an opening statement. But I do want to mention a couple of things before I yield to Mr. Filner.
As we continue to work toward a balanced budget, both the Congress and the executive branch need a way to determine whether programs are accomplishing what they were designed to do. As resources become constrained, it is vital that we be able to judge the relative performance and cost of a wide range of all of the programs here in the Congress. Done properly, it will allow us to put our resources where they do the most good and we allI believe all of us in the room and the subcommittee and the full committee, believe that that is the best thing for veterans as well.
Page 2 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Today, we continue a series of oversight hearings on the management of veterans benefits programs using the Government Performance and Results Act as a framework. The Results Act, of course, was passed during the 103rd Congress to provide the executive and legislative branches common reference around which to judge the performance of these government programs. Probably the single most important feature of the act is linking performance of the budget process by focusing on outcomes rather than through-put in a series of agreed measures to judge that performance.
I would submit a full statement for the record of a couple of more pages, but want to thank our witnesses here this morning. And I would yield to Mr. Filner for an opening statement.
[The prepared statement of Chairman Quinn appears on p. 19.]
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. BOB FILNER
Mr. FILNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I too, will submit a statement.
Just briefly, I just want to repeat something I think we have all agreed to over our set of hearings, that as we look at the Results Act and have a joint commitment to goals that we establish, we must continue to monitor those goals. We must continue to focus on it, to make sure that 5 years from now our successors or we ourselves don't have to have hearings that say nothing has happened.
So as an institution, the Congress must be as accountable as the agency in making sure that we do our oversight. And that is in the interest of the veterans of this Nation and I hope that we all fulfill our functions here. I will submit a full statement for the record.
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [The prepared statement of Congressman Filner appears on p. 22.]
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Bob.
We have two panels today. Our first panel is the General Accounting Office, and they will comment on the VA's efforts thus far to present their views on what the Results Act will do for us; and secondly, we will hear from the directors of the Education and Vocational Rehabilitation programs.
We welcome the veterans' organizations to submit their GPRA comments for the record. Of course, if they hear or read something here today that piques their interest, they are always welcome to comment on it.
And I would like to ask our first panel, Ms. Cynthia Fagnoni, to come to the witness table, please, and anybody who is going to join her.
As you are taking your seats this morning, I would like to yield at this time to the Ranking Member of the full committee for any opening statements Mr. Evans may have.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. LANE EVANS, RANKING DEMOCRATIC MEMBER, COMMITTEE ON VETERANS AFFAIRS
Mr. EVANS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you and commend you and Bob Filner, the Ranking Member, for the rigorous examination of GPRA that is being made by this subcommittee. I believe this continuous oversight is very important to make sure we get responsible information from the Department of Veterans Affairs. So I appreciate the continuing interest in this issue.
The consolidation of educational claims processing in four offices now appears to be working smoothly. The Education Service has also made significant strides in developing a number of pilot projects which should provide veterans more effective and efficient services. As this subcommittee evaluates these pilot programs, I hope you will focus on the actual and expected outcomes, including the concrete impact of educational benefits on the lives of our veterans.
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I still have concerns about the VA and the GPRA process and goals. I still have concerns about VBA providing this committee with enough information to provide fruitful and productive consultations. Too often it seems to me VA regards our committee not as a friend, but more as a foe.
If VA would provide candid assessments of the problems they face and provide solutions, together we could accomplish much more. I invite the VA to join with us in a partnership for the benefit of both our veterans who have earned their benefits and the taxpayers.
Additionally, I want to take this opportunity to convey again my concerns about the need for a significant improvement in providing our veterans vocational rehabilitation counseling, job placement assistance and actual job placement. Based on the information I receive from veterans and others who should know, VA is failing to provide our veterans the quality vocational rehabilitation and counseling services they deserve to receive. These services must be better and produce better results with and for our veterans. Our veterans deserve no less.
Again, I thank you for your continuous oversight on this issue, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Evans. We appreciate the fact that you are with us today and your comments.
Mr. Mascara, any opening remarks?
Mr. MASCARA. I do not have any.
Mr. QUINN. All right. We are going to operate under the 5-minute rule if that is okay with everybody today, including the witnesses. We will, of course, accept any other documents and full testimony that you have. Ms. Fagnoni.
STATEMENT OF CYNTHIA M. FAGNONI, ACTING ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, VETERANS' AFFAIRS AND MILITARY HEALTH CARE ISSUES, ACCOMPANIED BY IRENE CHU, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, VETERANS' AFFAIRS AND MILITARY HEALTH CARE ISSUES, AND JAY EGLIN, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT ISSUES, U.S. GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC
Ms. FAGNONI. Thank you. I would like to submit my full statement for the record. I have with me today Irene Chu and Jay Eglin.
Mr. QUINN. Good morning.
Ms. FAGNONI. Good morning.
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. We are pleased to be here today to provide our views on the progress made and challenges faced by the Veterans Benefits Administration in implementing the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993. As you know, the Congress intended that the Results Act would fundamentally shift the focus of Federal management and accountability from staffing and activity levels to program results. The Congress recognized that measuring program results would be difficult and has provided for the Results Act to be phased in over several years.
VBA is responsible for administering programs that provide financial and other benefits to veterans, their dependents and survivors. My statement today centers primarily on two VBA programs: vocational rehabilitation and counseling and educational assistance.
The information I am presenting today is based on prior work we have done in the VA program area, a review of VBA's strategic plan and discussions with VBA officials.
In summary, VBA has taken positive first steps to implement the Results Act, but this process is evolving over time. VBA faces many challenges in its efforts to establish results-oriented goals, to measure performance and to use that information to improve performance and enhance program results.
To date, VBA has developed a strategic plan with a mission and goals and has begun consultation with the Congress and other stakeholders to obtain their views on its plan. VBA has, for example, established four goals for the VR program. Three of these goals are focused on improving the efficiency of the rehabilitation process and assessing the level of satisfaction customers have with services that VBA provides.
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The fourth goal, that of increasing the number of VR program participants who successfully complete their program, is focused to some extent on program results. To help track its progress in achieving these goals, VBA has established several performance measures such as the average number of days it takes to evaluate a claim for rehabilitation benefits and then notify the claimant, and the percentage of veterans who are found to be entitled to rehabilitation services and then go on to develop a rehabilitation plan.
The one measure VBA has established that is directed at program results is the percentage of veterans who complete their training phase, enter the employment services phase and then go on to acquire and maintain suitable employment.
VBA has also established four goals for its educational assistance program. As with the VA program goals, they are oriented toward improving the accuracy and timeliness of claims processing and determining beneficiary satisfaction with VBA services. Performance measures include the average number of days required to complete educational assistance claims processing and the percentage of eligible veterans, service members and reservists who are using their Montgomery GI Bill educational benefits.
As you can see from these examples, VBA has made a good start in setting forth goals and measures, but is not yet in a position to fully measure and assess program performance and results. Setting goals and establishing measures aimed at improving accuracy, timeliness and customer satisfaction is important. But it is also important for VBA to know what differences its programs are making in the lives of eligible veterans. VBA is aware that it needs to focus more on program results and recognizes that additional data and research will be required, including formal program evaluations and extensive consultations with stakeholders.
VBA will also need to integrate its plan with other VA programs and Federal or State agencies that support veterans benefits programs.
As VBA's strategic planning efforts progress, VBA must ensure that it effectively measures and assesses performance to determine how well its programs are meeting their goals and making improvements. However, in doing so, VBA faces some significant challenges. Measuring results will be difficult because the link between program operations and results may be hard to establish in some cases. Also, a result may occur years after an agency has completed a task.
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Nevertheless, under the Results Act, agencies are expected to use the performance and cost data they collect to continuously improve operations, identify gaps between their performance and performance plans and goals and develop plans for closing performance gaps.
VBA will need to develop appropriate performance measures and collect adequate and reliable performance and cost data to effectively measure and assess its performance. At the same time, VBA must carefully balance the cost of data collection against the desire for complete, accurate and consistent data.
Mr. Chairman, this completes my testimony this morning. I would be pleased to respond to any questions you or members of the subcommittee may have.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Fagnoni appears on p. 24.]
Mr. QUINN. Thank you very much.
Ms. Chu or Mr. Eglin, do you have anything to add to the statement at this point? Are you here for expertise?
Mr. EGLIN. Support.
Ms. CHU. Support, yes.
Mr. QUINN. And the ride over probably.
Okay. Thanks for your statement. We appreciate the full statement submitted for the record.
I have some questions. I am going to start with something I heard you say in your testimony that I didn't prepare, but you mentioned just toward the end that the VBA must integrate its plan with Federal agencies and other State agencies.
We have had two hearings already on this whole matter. This is our third and final one today. But that integration of plans and how the process moves along, Bob and I were talking one or two hearings ago about training and how that is integrated and those kinds of things.
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Can you say a little bit more about the need for that and how it fits the bigger picture, for example?
Ms. FAGNONI. Well, as we have pointed out in quite a bit of our work, there are a number of agencies who either rely on other agencies for assistance in achieving program resultsfor example, in the case of the VR program, VBA relies on the Department of Labor, as well as State and local employment agencies, to help disabled veterans obtain employment. And, therefore, it is important that as VBA is developing its strategic plan and determining goals and measures, it understand and coordinate with these organizations to help achieve the program results.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you. And there must be some communication and dialogue that is going on. That is probably a question more for our second panel, I am certain, but the point is well stated. Thank you.
Ms. FAGNONI. Yes.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Filner.
Mr. FILNER. As I was reading the testimony of the folks who are going to be here today, it strikes me how difficult it is to interpret these measurements.
For example, in the case of the Montgomery GI Bill benefits: we can look at what percent are using these benefits and whether that is a proper goal, but what is the relationship between that, for example, and the benefit level that Congress has mandated?
If, for example, only 40 percent of veterans are making use of the benefit that doesn't tell us really what is the problem. It is just collecting data without making sure that we know the reasons behind the data. It is troublesome to me that agencies may just collect data and think that the job is done.
How do you deal with putting too much emphasis on ''the measurement'' as the way to deal with the Results Act?
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. FAGNONI. Well, one of the key things in the Results Act is what is really going on right now, which is this consultation process where agencies and the Congress together hopefully reach some sort of agreement on what the major program mission and goals should be, the idea being that if agencies can develop strategic plans that are results oriented and focus on program results, what they choose to measure willit will be clear how they link to those results and that the measuresthe goal is that the measures will be limited to those few key measures that an agency can show are really affecting program results.
Also, the VBA does have plans, and they are in the process of trying to develop some cost measures. Right now, for example, they are not able to easily say how much it costs, for example, to rehabilitate a disabled veteran and provide them employment. So they recognize that they need to be able to link results also with the costs of achieving those results.
But you are right, this is an area where it is very important that the agencies focus on those measures that they can show will affect program results, and have a clear understanding of why it is they are collecting data and measuring certain things.
Mr. FILNER. I was just reading your list of measures. I am not sure what it tells us. I don't want VA to just collect the data and do no further interpretation and say we have complied with the Results Act. I have seen that happen before in other bodies.
Ms. CHU. Maybe I can help clear up some things.
For a program to focus on outcome for these types of entitlement programs, it seems that measures would tend to focus on what happens to the veteran as opposed to what services the VA provides them. That is important, but ultimately we are tryingwe have these programs so that it makes a difference in veterans' lives. And so the types of measures one might want to think about that are results oriented are those like: Are the veterans receivingdisabled veterans receiving suitable employment? What types of employment are they getting? How does that compare with other disabled veterans, who don't go through the program? How does it compare with those disabled veterans who don't go through the program and how does it compare with non-disabled veterans in the private sector?
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And similarly, in the education program, one wants to focus on what type of education the veteran received. How does that compare with other veterans who didn't go through the program? And similarly, you know, how does it compare with the individuals in the civilian sector?
So when we are talking about outcome, we are talking about things that affect the recipients of the program and not so much what the process is of delivering the service to the veteran.
Mr. FILNER. I will pass.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Evans.
Mr. EVANS. No questions.
Mr. QUINN. No questions. Mr. Mascara.
Mr. MASCARA. I had a hard time falling asleep last night, so I took this home with me and I didn't require any sleeping pills.
I refer to part of the report that says that under the Results Act every major Federal agency must now ask itself some basic questions: What is our mission?
And I will just continue, but just keep that in mind.
I need to know, in 10 words or less, what the mission is? What are our goals and how will we achieve them? How can we measure our performance? How will we use the information to make improvements?
And this is the one that catches my eye here: The act forces a shift in the focus of Federal agencies away from such traditional concerns as staffing and activity levels and toward a single overriding issue, results. How do you get away from staffing an activity level that must play an important role in the result?
It just seems like there is some clever verbiage here, and that is the reason I started to fall asleep because you lost me when you said that we have to shift away from staffing and activity levels, when we all know that there are problems out there that exist as a result of the lack of staffing in many instances, and that, perhaps, the wrong activities are being generated in providing service to our veterans.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Anybody?
Ms. FAGNONI. Well, you are right. I think one of the points of the Results Act is if an agency can start with looking at what is the mission of the program, and for that particular question, where the agency would start would be what has the Congress determined that the mission of our program should be as it is stated in the law?
For example, in the case of the Education Assistance program, one of the stated legislative goals of the program is to provide veterans with an education that they might not otherwise have been able to obtain. Another purpose of that program, as stated in the law, is to aid in the recruitment and retention of highly qualified military personnel.
So you are absolutely right that staffing and activity levels make a difference, but I think what the Results Act is trying to do is, if the agencies or programs can start with the legislated mission, as agreed with the Congress as far as what the program is supposed to accomplish, try to measure to what extent it is achieving those results, and then it would be in a better position to see how things like process and staffing and activity levels are contributing to that outcome.
For example, in the case of education, is an individual able to actually obtain an education? Did they obtain an education that they might not otherwise have obtained?
So it isn't meant to ignore staffing and activity, but rather, to put the focus first on results and then show how activities and processes contribute to those results.
Mr. MASCARA. That is a good answer. Thank you.
Ms. FAGNONI. Thank you.
Ms. CHU. I will try something else.
Ms. FAGNONI. Sure.
Ms. CHU. I think one of the things we show in Voc Rehab, you know, is process is important, but if you don't focus on the outcome, what happens to the program is what we had demonstrated, that very few people, veterans, were completing the program and getting jobs. And so we are saying that those are important, the process is important and also the outcome is important.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MASCARA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you, Mr. Mascara.
I suppose you are better off taking it home and having yourself go to sleep than if you went home and you were sleepy and you read it and you couldn't get to sleep. I think we would all be in a lot more trouble if that was the situation.
I have another question. Part of the statementyour statement says that ''Measures should be linked to offices that are directly responsible for making programs work,'' end quote, which makes a lot of sense.
Can you give me an example of that, either in Education or the Voc Rehab programs? In other words, you are saying the measures should be linked directly to the offices that make the programs work. I agree. I just need an example or two, if you are able to. Can you?
Ms. CHU. Well, for example, in determining Voc Rehab eligibility, there has to be a determination of a disability, service-connected disability. So the link would be towith the Department of Defense in terms of the information Defense has that provides service connected data.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you. Then we are back to my original question where we talked about that other agency business that you are dealing with other Federal agencies, whether it is the Labor Department, the Department of Defense or State agencies.
Ms. CHU. Right. The coordination has to be there, yes. VBA does consider them stakeholders.
Mr. QUINN. Exactly the point I was trying to make. Thank you.
Bob, any questions?
Mr. FILNER. No.
Mr. QUINN. Mr. Evans, any questions for the panel?
Mr. EVANS. No.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. Anything to add?
Ms. FAGNONI. No.
Mr. QUINN. Thanks very much. I appreciate your time this morning.
Ms. FAGNONI. Thanks.
Mr. QUINN. We will move to our second panel. I guess it is our second panel. Representatives of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Ms. Celia Dollarhide, the Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Education Service; Mr. Jeff Goetz, who is the Operations Manager for the VA Voc Rehab and Counseling Service; and they are both accompanied by Mr. Robert Gardner, CFO of the Veterans Benefits Administration.
This is also an opportunity for me now to publicly thank you all for the briefings that Mr. Filner and I received earlier this year when the committees were combined and you were kind enough to present us with a great deal of information. We appreciate it very much.
We are going to operate, Ms. Dollarhide, also under the 5-minute rule. You may have a full statement for the committee, but if you could, condense your comments into about 5 minutes or so, and then we will do some questioning. Is that okay?
STATEMENT OF CELIA DOLLARHIDE, DIRECTOR, EDUCATION SERVICE; JEFFREY T. GOETZ, OPERATIONS MANAGER, VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION AND COUNSELING SERVICE; AND ROBERT GARDNER, CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER, VETERANS BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION, DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. That is fine. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the subcommittee to discuss implementation of the Government Performance and Results Act for the Department of Veterans Affairs Educational Assistance program and the Vocational Rehabilitation and Counseling program.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC With me today on my left, Mr. Robert Gardner, Director of Veterans Benefits, Office of Resource Management; and on my right, Mr. Jeffrey Goetz, Operations Manager, Vocational Rehabilitation and Counseling Service.
Historically, VA education and rehabilitation programs have had significant impact on education in society as a whole. We know that more education directly results in increased income and a better quality of life. We are proud of our part in the process.
Earlier this year, members of both the Education Service and the Vocational Rehabilitation and Counseling Service briefed staff members of the subcommittee on our implementation plans for the Government Performance and Results Act. It is a pleasure to be here today to discuss with you substantive details of both 1998 business plans.
First, let me turn to the education assistance program. We have four major goals to accomplish: the first, to identify the level of satisfaction our customers have had with the service and benefits we provide and begin setting improvement targets by 1998. As part of this goal, we intend to increase the usage rate of veterans' training under the Montgomery GI Bill from the current 37 percent level to 75 percent by the year 2002.
This will be accomplished, in part, by improved customer service; by providing greater access to VA for education information; and by providing, in cooperation with the Department of Defense, information on the benefits available to service members before they are discharged.
Our second goal is to improve payment and service accuracy and claims processing timeliness.
So far this year, our payment accuracy has average 93 percent. Our goal for 1997-1998 is 94 percent. We intend to improve our payment accuracy by at least 2 percent by the year 2000.
As for average days to complete, we are pleased to note that our four education processing offices are adjudicating cases in just under 13 days this year. Reasons contributing to this include education consolidation, balancing of the workload between offices and the dedication of our employees in the field.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC While we were very pleased with the timeliness results thus far in fiscal year 1997, we are concerned that as the staffing is reduced to meet fiscal year 1998 ceilings and, as the traditional increase in enrollments begin late in the summer, we will be unable to continue to meet these timeliness gains.
Our third goal is to implement an enhanced training program and adopt the VBA Employee Survey by 1998.
Our fourth goal is to develop a management tool to identify the cost of administering the educational assistance programs by 1998.
The activity based costing initiative has been identified as the vehicle which will enable us to isolate the actual unit costs of our education operations as required by the Government Performance and Results Act. A successful model was implemented in St. Louis and has now been exported to our Atlanta office. In a few weeks, it will be exported to our Muskogee regional office and then to Buffalo and will carry us into the next fiscal year.
As part of strategic planning, Education Service is using business process reengineering as a tool for the systematic analysis and redesign of our processes, with an eye to achieving significant performance gains. The reengineering project team identified educational and vocational attainment as a possible desired outcome. There is still much to do on this issue, and we will work with our stakeholders and this committee in developing meaningful outcome measures.
Let me turn now to the Vocational Rehabilitation and Counseling program.
We have four major goals to achieve.
The first is to identify the level of satisfaction our customers have with the services we provide and to begin setting improvement targets by 1998. As part of this goal, we have developed changes in program delivery systems, staff training and performance objectives and indicators. These changes will ensure veterans get more timely decisions on their claims, more clearly understand vocational rehabilitation and are increasingly satisfied with our services.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The second goal is to increase the relative number of vocational rehabilitation program participants who successfully complete their programs.
We have developed initiatives to emphasize employment services, proposed streamlined staffing and set up performance objectives and indicators to measure success in getting an eligible veteran to achieve an employment objective. These changes will increase the number of veterans who develop a rehabilitation plan, reduce processing hand-offs, improve program management and, more importantly, increase job placements of disabled veterans.
The third goal is to ensure that all employees have the skills needed for their positions in order to maintain a highly skilled and motivated and adaptable workforce.
We have developed initiatives to emphasize employment services, established new staff qualification standards, proposed increased support for staff training and set up associated performance objectives and indicators to measure the quality of staff training and performance.
Our fourth goal is to develop a management tool to identify the cost of delivering vocational rehabilitation benefits by 1998. As part of this goal, we intend to acquire appropriate cost information, improve management decisions and function in an environment of scarce resources.
As a result of our vocational rehabilitation strategic planning initiative, we are continuing to streamline operations and develop a performance- and results-oriented organization.
In our fiscal 1998 business plan, we provide more efficient and timely delivery of vocational rehabilitation services. Together with our redesign efforts, this business plan will help to refine our initiatives and activities through fiscal year 1999 and beyond.
Our program's redesign efforts to date have yielded greatly increased numbers of veterans reaching their rehabilitation goals, numbers that we expect our business plan
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCand redesign efforts will continue to increase.
I would briefly like to take this opportunity to mention one of our recent rehabilitation placements. We talked about it earlier this morning. A disabled veteran has begun a full-time, on-job training position in your district office, Mr. Chairman; and we want to thank you for showing your support.
I would also like to mention that our office in San Diego is working with Congressman Filner's staff to develop a similar program for one of our disabled veterans.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. We would appreciate the subcommittee's comments and suggestions today as we work together in the future to implement the Government Performance and Results Act and improve service to veterans. We will be pleased to answer any questions you or members of the subcommittee may have, and I would like to submit the full statement for the record.
Mr. QUINN. Absolutely. Thank you. Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Dollarhide appears on p. 32.]
Mr. QUINN. Let me begin by asking a couple of the questions that I have, maybe the types of questions that you might not have information for today. So if it is a particular kind of question, I would invite you, if you can't get your hands on it today, to get it back to us and prepare it for the staff in the next week or so. That would be fine with us.
The Results Act we have said is part of the strategic planning process. There is no question about that. This is our third hearing we have set on it.
The straightforward question is, when can the committee expect delivery of the draft strategic plan and how complete will it be when we receive it?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. Let me ask Mr. Gardner to respond to that question.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. GARDNER. I know the Department is working feverishly on this. We are very interested in being as responsive to you as we can.
For our part, in terms of VBA, we met with Mr. Duffy and his staff on Tuesday and are reviewing a draft. I know it is their intent to try to get something to you by the end of this week.
I would also say that we want it to be a good document. I will only just not speak for the Department but for my VBA pieceI want it to be a quality document that we can have a good dialogue on and not something that we have rushed through to get to you quickly.
I am struggling with a lot of those issues as to trying to put a little more time into it, working with our program directors, especially in the outcome area, to try to put a little more information into it.
There is a constant trade-off between taking a little more time but not getting you something we can't begin a dialogue on. I would certainly say that my understanding is that they are aiming to get something to you by the end of this week.
Mr. QUINN. That would be fine.
For the record, it was due June 1. We are only talking about a few days. I happen to agree with you. A few extra days to make it more complete is worth that. If we are not headed toward the end of this weekwell, today is Thursday already. Just keep us informed if you are going to need a couple of extra days into next week. Just let us know so we know what to expect there. If you run into a major problem where it is going to be 2 or 3 weeks, we would like to know that. Okay? Thanks.
Then let me get back to the question I asked the first paneland any or all of you can respond to thisabout this discussion, communication and dialogue with other agencies, Federal agencies and State agencies, and as it relates to the whole Results Act.
Could you comment on some examples of some of that discussion that is taking place? I want to know that we are not operating in vacuums here all along the way.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. DOLLARHIDE. Well, I will go ahead and speak to the education program.
We, as part of our strategic planning right now, are going through a business reengineering process program and, as a part of that, we are working closely with officials from the Department of Defense, school officials, our State approving agency membership, veterans' groups and the like. They are all members of the project team and members of the steering group or guidance team which gives the project team guidance and direction as they analyze the program.
We are just beginning, frankly, in the education program. We have always had liaison with other agencies, State agencies, educational organizations and so forth. But to sit down and plan strategically like this is new for us, and we are doing it. It is an interesting exercise, and we are really beginning it through this business process reengineering initiative.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you. So that you had liaisons before that you said you were working with and helping out. That really means sitting down at the table.
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. This is what we are doing now, actually sitting down and talking about exactly what the program is to deliver, how we should be delivering it, how we should be providing benefits to veterans and their dependents, what their expectations are and how we can do a better job.
Mr. QUINN. And what kind of people are you talking to? I mean, you gave an example of the Education Department. Maybe I did not hear the answer.
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. The Department of Education, we visited with them.
Mr. QUINN. Who are you talking with at the Department of Education, for example?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. Both in the postsecondary area and in reports and statistics.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. Okay. Good.
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. In the Department of Defense, of course, program managers of the various services but also the director of accession policy and his staff and the DMDC out in Monterey.
Mr. QUINN. Great.
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. We have always worked closely with them as far as systems interaction. We are redesigning our reserve payment system. They are redesigning their system out there. Of course, we have been working with them.
Mr. QUINN. Sure. Are you satisfied generally with the response you are receiving from these other agencies?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. Very much so, uh-huh.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you. Thank you very much. Those are exactly the examples I was looking for. Thanks.
Mr. Filner, do you have any questions?
Mr. FILNER. If you had to put in one sentence the goal for both the vocational rehabilitation and the educational service, what would you say the goal was?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. I am going to let Jeff talk to the vocational rehabilitation program, and let me give him a chance to talk here. But, basically, I think for the education program we hope to help them meet their educationalattain their educational and vocational goals.
Mr. GOETZ. For the vocational rehabilitation program, in one sentence, it would be to assist service-disabled veterans to get jobs, suitable jobs.
Mr. FILNER. I would agree with you that both are worthwhile goals.
I somehowI don't have enough experience with this, and I don't mean to be unkind, but I have read the testimony and I have had some experience with this approach. Sometimes in responding to what an agency might see as a bureaucratic demand, the agency itself becomes very bureaucratic in dealing with the demand, and whole bureaucracies are created that ''measure'' and don't do anything to meet the goals. The goal is to get someone a job.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I have read your four goals and I have read the performance measurements of the goals. And I don't see the word ''job'' in any of themthe very word you used here today as your primary objective.
It looks like we are building up a whole bunch of ''stuff'' that is supposed to help you get resultsbut may not. We are developing management tools. We are making sure your employees are trained. But most of this ''stuff'' has nothing to do with the veteran getting a job! There is a whole number of these things that are quantifiable, but I am not sure they have anything to do with the veteran actually getting a job. And none of this tells me whether you are doing your job.
It looks like we are compiling reports for the sake of meeting the requirements of the Results Act and then developing a whole new industry to do that and not meet your true objectives.
Mr. GOETZ. Well, we would be the first to admit that this is a first-time effort for us in terms of GPRA; and we have perhaps been not clear.
We often sometimes use the word ''rehabilitation.'' For us, that means suitable employment, or a suitable job and I can see where that could be misleading.
Mr. FILNER. Well, if somebody completes their program, which is one of your measures what does not tell me? I could serve 2 years in Congress. Does that mean I have done my job?
I could tell you I have completed my educated program. I went 4 years to an undergraduate college; I went 8 years to graduate school; and I completed my program. Does that mean I know anything about what it is I was supposed to have learned? That measure, in itself, doesn't mean anything except the time I put in.
After I get a Ph.D., can I teach? It doesn't tell me that.
Mr. GOETZ. Well, I would think, in our case, the measure that we would be emphasizing there would be how you were able to profit from the services and acquire the skills to acquire employment and we would certainly consider you, if you were going through our vocational rehabilitation program and were in the position you are in now, as being suitably employed and properly using those skills and education that you were provided.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. FILNER. Yes, but did they get a job?
Mr. GARDNER. Can I jump in a second?
I agree with you, but we are not good yet at focusing on the outcomes and zeroing in on that and communicating that back and forth to you and other stakeholders. We are getting better at understanding our outcomes, figuring out how to measure them, but our lives are still too full of, as was said before, staffing and productivity and timeliness.
And I would offer to you there is the issue of, coming to you with a lot of data about getting veterans jobs and then somebody would complain to you ''But it takes them too long to do that.'' Then we would get back into some satisfaction issues. You almost have to get into tiers of performance measures. And there is no doubt, I think, in our mind that the outcomes, jobs for veterans in this case, is absolutely the highest priority. We need to get a lot better at articulating that and communicating that and measuring it.
We need to be able to provide service to veterans, and that means timeliness and accuracy and more traditional things, and we need to measure those things better, too. I believe it is an evolving process, and there is no doubt that we need to get a lot better at identifying the key measures and communicating them in our planning process.
Mr. FILNER. As a layperson trying to understand what you are doing, you say your objective is ''jobs'' and ''education'', but I don't find either of these words used in your goals and measures. You are building up a whole new vocabulary to talk about something that is really much simpler and should be more easily communicated. That is just my reaction.
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. Could I just add something, Mr. Filner? With the various educational programs Congress has given usit has outlined clear purposes for each of the programs. They total around 10. And Ms. Fagnoni from the GAO has indicated that we are challenged with trying to synthesize these into several really easily identifiable outcomes to support the intent of Congress and the purposes of the law.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are starting to do this. We appreciate what you are saying. We recognize that as we strive to meet the requirements of the law.
Mr. FILNER. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, nothing further.
Mr. QUINN. Just to follow up on that a little bit, when you start talking about outcomes, part of it would be, if I follow up on Bob's point here that it may be simpler than what all the vocabulary means. Bob says, ''did they get a job?'' And I associate myself with those remarks, even though I spilled coffee all over him.
Is the veteran better off than when he or she started before? Can you list some outcomes for Voc Rehab, for example, that you are looking at? Are you talking about how many are placed in jobs, offered salary? Are we tracking them to find out if they stay in the jobs, promotions?
Mr. GOETZ. Obviously, the major outcome in the vocational rehabilitation program is getting veterans jobs.
Mr. QUINN. Yes.
Mr. GOETZ. We have done some, if you will, socioeconomic analysis. In other words, what type of income did they have when they entered the program? What type of income do they have when they leave the program and are they suitably employed? We need to get a lot better at acquiring that kind of information, including are they still employed a year, 2 or 3 years after they finish the program and get their first job?
As Bob points out, we need to do a better job at getting that kind of information to understand how well we are actually accomplishing what it is we are trying to accomplish.
Mr. QUINN. Or how well we are not doing it.
Mr. GOETZ. How well we are not.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. QUINN. I mean, you talk about education. I happen to be a teacher. Sometimes the results you get from the questions you ask and the data you receive isn't always absolutely positive. But it helps you make decisions on how to better do your job, which I believe you are all about. That is what we all want to do. So that we shouldn't be concerned if the answer isn't always positive as long as we use it in such a way that it helps us with your main goal in one sentence, and that is to get veterans jobs.
Mr. GOETZ. I couldn't agree with you more.
Mr. QUINN. And I agree thatBob Filner and I have talked about this a number of times throughout these hearings, that we are not just building up a whole separate industry here of talking about tracking and outcomes and incomes and through-puts and all that kind of stuff.
Thank you for the answer. I appreciate that GAO was here, and they contend that the VBA has contracted for services to review higher education institutions that have already been reviewed by the Department of Education.
And this is part of my question, is there interaction going on with the other agencies, both Federal and State agencies? Could someone comment on that observation by GAO?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. Well, we do work with the Department of Education, and the GAO has indicated that we doI think the comment was something to the effect that we duplicate services or quality of review of institutions of higher learning by the Department of Education.
I am not aware that they actually have a quality assurance program in effect at the Department of Education. I do believe that they require institutions who are interested in participating in their grant and loan programs, such as Pell grants, Stafford loans and that type of thing, to show that they are accredited or licensedare financially stable and meet other administrative criteria.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The State-approving agencies with whom we contract, by law, under Title 38 are the offices in the States designated by the governor to approve programs of education and training for the enrollment of veterans to ensure that the requirements of Title 38 are met, State requirements are met and that it is a bona fide program of education.
To accomplish this, they actually make on-site visits to the institution or training facility, assure that the program of education or training meets the standards required. They look at the credentials of the instructors and so forth, the physical plant, and assure that they have the administrative capability to certify veterans' enrollment to VA.
Mr. QUINN. Excuse me. Who makes the actual visit?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. Members of the State-approving agency. Those are the ones that we contract with; and they are generally employees of the State Department of Education or in that arena, designated by the governor to handle that.
Mr. QUINN. In his or her State?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. In the State, yes. It is a State activity. They are under contract to us, and we reimburse them. This is all under the umbrella and mandated by the laws that govern the GI bill.
Now, basically, we have dealt with State-approving agencies for years. They have handled our approval issues for years, and they are really a gatekeeper up front and have also overseen schools within their State basically to assure that the veteran is receiving a valuable education or training and saving the taxpayers' dollars.
Mr. QUINN. Now the Results Actthank you.
The Results Act, as we have all said, is new to all of us, new here. You all are at the forefront of this, I think, and ahead of a lot of other agencies in the Federal Government. So, in a sense, we are the trial here, in the trial and error method.
Because it is new, are you in a position to comment on these State-approving agencies? Are they more helpful, less helpful? Do they understand the Results Act enough to be helpful?
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. DOLLARHIDE. They are working with us, as far as our business process reengineering effort; and we are also looking at their activities, particularly as weas resources within the Department of Veterans' Affairs are getting tighter, to see if we can have them provide more support to us. Let's put it that way.
We have talked with them about the Government Performance and Results Act. There are some in the room. The president of the national association, who is from the State of New York, incidentally, is in the room; and we have been talking with him about it this week. I think we have a very cooperative relationship, and I think it will be interesting to see how we work things out in the future.
Mr. QUINN. So we contracted these people. Do we know how much it has cost us?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. This is out of our readjustment benefits account, and the cap mandated by law is $13 million. Some States have two State-approving agencies. Some handle only the Department of Labor issues, such as apprenticeships and on-the-job training. But we have at least one State-approving agency in each State.
Mr. QUINN. Finally, while we are on the State-approving agencies and we have talked about outcome data and who collects that, and Mr. Goetz talked about what we do with it once we collect it a little bit, can some of those State-approving agencies help us with that collection, do you think?
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. We have talked with them about it. We historically, in VA, have been very good at collecting internal data, which is not helpful in this instance. We have talked with the Department of Education about the statistics that they collect on a national basis, and we have talked with the State-approving agencies to look more closely at some of the things that have been raised, such as grade point averages of our veteran students, which would be difficult to collect otherwise. We do not have the capability in our current systems.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We know how many veterans are enrolled in institutions of higher learning, both 4 year, 2 year, graduate programs, premise on-the-job training, flight training, that type of thing. We rely on the schools to assure that veterans are progressing based upon their standards of progress; and that is something that the State-approving agencies monitor, as do we.
But as far as specific degrees awarded and that type of thing, we do not have the information internally in VA; and the State-approving agencies have agreed to start looking into that for us.
Mr. QUINN. I didn't mean to insinuate that we even want you to get into that business, believe me.
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. We will see what we get.
Mr. QUINN. Frankly
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. But the questions, very frankly, have been raised.
Mr. QUINN. Okay. Good.
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. So we will deal with them.
Mr. QUINN. Thank you. I don't have any further questions. Mr. Filner.
Mr. FILNER. Nothing.
Mr. QUINN. Anybody on the panel want to add anything at this point?
Then we would like to thank you for your testimony today and your response to the questions, and the hearing stands adjourned.
Ms. DOLLARHIDE. Thank you very much.
[Whereupon, at 10:30 a.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]
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