Font Size Down Font Size Up Reset Font Size

Sign Up for Committee Updates

 

Hearing Transcript on State Approving Agencies.

 

STATE APPROVING AGENCIES

 



 HEARING

BEFORE  THE

SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY

OF THE

COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS

U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

ONE HUNDRED TENTH CONGRESS

FIRST SESSION


APRIL 19, 2007


SERIAL No. 110-15


Printed for the use of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs

 

Snowflake

 

U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
WASHINGTON, DC:  2008


For sale by the Superintendent of Documents,  U.S. Government Printing Office
Internet: bookstore.gpo.gov  Phone: toll free (866) 512-1800; DC area (202) 512-1800
Fax: (202) 512-2250  Mail: Stop IDCC, Washington, DC 20402-0001

 


COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS

BOB FILNER, California, Chairman

  CORRINE BROWN, Florida
VIC SNYDER, Arkansas
MICHAEL H. MICHAUD, Maine
STEPHANIE HERSETH SANDLIN, South Dakota
HARRY E. MITCHELL, Arizona
JOHN J. HALL, New York
PHIL HARE, Illinois
MICHAEL F. DOYLE, Pennsylvania
SHELLEY BERKLEY, Nevada
JOHN T. SALAZAR, Colorado
CIRO D. RODRIGUEZ, Texas
JOE DONNELLY, Indiana
JERRY MCNERNEY, California
ZACHARY T. SPACE, Ohio
TIMOTHY J. WALZ, Minnesota
STEVE BUYER,  Indiana, Ranking
CLIFF STEARNS, Florida
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
HENRY E. BROWN, JR., South Carolina
JEFF MILLER, Florida
JOHN BOOZMAN, Arkansas
GINNY BROWN-WAITE, Florida
MICHAEL R. TURNER, Ohio
BRIAN P. BILBRAY, California
DOUG LAMBORN, Colorado
GUS M. BILIRAKIS, Florida
VERN BUCHANAN, Florida
 
 
 

Malcom A. Shorter, Staff Director


SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
STEPHANIE HERSETH SANDLIN, South Dakota, Chairwoman

JOE DONNELLY, Indiana
JERRY MCNERNEY, California
JOHN J. HALL, New York
JOHN BOOZMAN, Arkansas, Ranking
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
JERRY MORAN, Kansas

Pursuant to clause 2(e)(4) of Rule XI of the Rules of the House, public hearing records of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs are also published in electronic form. The printed hearing record remains the official version. Because electronic submissions are used to prepare both printed and electronic versions of the hearing record, the process of converting between various electronic formats may introduce unintentional errors or omissions. Such occurrences are inherent in the current publication process and should diminish as the process is further refined.

 
       

C O N T E N T S
April 19, 2007


State Approving Agencies

OPENING STATEMENTS

Chairwoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
    Prepared statement of Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin

Hon. John Boozman, Ranking Republican Member
    Prepared statement of Congressman Boozman


WITNESSES

U.S. Government Accountability Office, George A. Scott, Director, Education, Workforce and
    Income Security Issues
        Prepared statement of Mr. Scott
U.S. Department of Labor, John M. McWilliam, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations and
    Management, Veterans' Employment and Training Service
        Prepared statement of Mr. McWilliam
U.S. Department of Education, Carol A. Griffiths, Chief, Accrediting Agency Evaluation Unit,
    Office of Postsecondary Education
        Prepared statement of Ms. Griffiths
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Keith M. Wilson, Director, Education Service, Veterans
    Benefits Administration
        Prepared statement of Mr. Wilson


National Association of State Approving Agencies, Joan L. Ryan, President
    Prepared statement of Ms. Ryan
South Dakota State Approving Agency, George W. Summerside, Veterans Education Program Specialist
    Prepared statement of Mr. Summerside


SUBMISSIONS FOR THE RECORD

American Legion, Ronald F. Chamrin, Assistant Director, Economic Director, statement
Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions, Jean Avnet Morse, President, Middle States Commission on Higher Education


MATERIAL SUBMITTED FOR THE RECORD

U.S. Government Accountability Office, Report to the Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, U.S. Senate, March 2007, "VA Student Financial Aid—Management Actions Needed to Reduce Overlap in Approving Education and Training Programs and to Assess State Approving Agencies," GAO-07-384

Letter, dated April 27, 2007, and Supplemental Statement for the Record from Joan L. Ryan, President, and C. Donald Sweeney, Legislative Director, National Association of State Approving Agencies, responding to a request for additional information from Congressman John Boozman


STATE APPROVING AGENCIES


Thursday, April 19, 2007
House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity
Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Washington, D.C.

The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:05 p.m., in Room 334, Cannon House Office Building, Hon. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin [Chairwoman of the Subcommittee] presiding.

Present: Representatives Herseth Sandlin, Donnelly, Hall, Boozman.

OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRWOMAN HERSETH SANDLIN

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. The Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity hearing on functions performed by State Approving Agencies (SAAs) will come to order.

Before I begin with my opening statement, I would like to call attention to the fact that Ms. Jean Morse, President of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, has asked to submit a written statement for the record on behalf of the Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions.

If there is no objection, I ask for unanimous consent that the statement be entered into the record. Hearing no objection, so entered.

[The statement of Ms. Morse appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Today we will be hearing testimony on State Approving Agencies. The authority of SAAs was established by Congress in 1947 to ensure that veterans and eligible dependents can use the GI Bill educational entitlement in an approved educational program.

Under contract with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the key function of SAAs is to ensure that education and training programs meet VA's standards through a range of approval activities such as conducting on-site visits, evaluating course quality, assessing school financial stability, and monitoring student progress.

Every State assesses each program as to its own standards and laws in addition to the VA rules and regulations with all approved programs undergoing continuous supervision.

The programs that can be approved include colleges, universities, vocational and technical schools, flight schools, apprenticeship programs, and on-the-job training programs. In addition, SAAs engage in outreach activities to foster the usage of the GI Bill.

This year, my home State of South Dakota is expecting to have approximately 2,100 eligible individuals enrolled in GI Bill eligible programs. These programs are now found at 47 schools and 192 training establishments in South Dakota. So I have a strong interest in exploring the subject before us today to improve the availability of education benefits for our men and women in uniform.

I understand that there are concerns about the funding change that is about to occur for the State Approving Agencies. From fiscal years 2003 to 2006, their funding increased from the statutory level of $13 million to $19 million to expand services. However, the funding level for SAAs is scheduled to decrease beginning in fiscal year 2008.

According to a recent report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that the responsibilities of State Approving Agencies have expanded since 1995 and that they add value to the approval process for education and training programs. However, the report also concluded that there was overlap between the efforts of State Approving Agencies and other Federal agencies.

While the VA now spends $19 million to fund SAA duties and functions, it does not track the amount it spends on specific SAA activities, especially those that may also be performed by other agencies. So I am very interested in hearing your insights on how these concerns can be addressed.

Ranking Member Boozman, I look forward to working with you and our colleagues and Subcommittee staff to help with these important services offered by the State Approving Agencies, and I now recognize the Ranking Member, Mr. Boozman, for any opening remarks that he may have.

[The statement of Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin and the referenced GAO report, GAO-07-384, entitled, "VA Student Financial Aid:  Management Actions Needed to Reduce Overlap in Approving Education and Training Programs and to Assess State Approving Agencies," appear in the Appendix.]

OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. JOHN BOOZMAN

Mr. BOOZMAN. Thank you very much.

The State Approving Agencies have for many years been a mainstay in ensuring that veterans attending the education and training programs under the various GI Bills receive quality instruction. That is why I thank you, Madam Chairwoman, for holding the hearing today.

A recent GAO report, that updated a 1995 report, again found overlaps in the functions performed by the State Approving Agencies, the regional and professional accrediting agencies acting on behalf of the Department of Education, and the Oversight Committees provided by the State Employment Services.

While the recent report was less critical than its predecessor and noted SAAs did, in fact, provide perspective not replicated by other organizations, GAO again recommended a thorough inter-agency review of how the Federal Government oversees the education industry.

I believe that this is important, that it is important to begin the processes and means to improve the education and training opportunities for veterans and their dependents.

Another issue is how much funding should VA provide to the States to act as VA's agent. VA currently pays the collective SAAs about 19 million out of the readjustment benefits account. As such, those payments are mandatory spending and beginning in fiscal year 2008, the law cuts that funding to 13 million.

So the question before us is what is the value of the services provided by the SAAs?

It looks like we are going to get a report from the regional accrediting agency as well as having somebody from the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) today, so we look forward to that, especially the functions associated with their programs.

I am sorry that witnesses from the accrediting bodies we invited were unable to attend. Their testimony would have been a valuable perspective relative to GAO's findings.

I would note the accrediting associations overseeing colleges and universities are membership organizations who charge their members significant annual dues as well as large fees for other functions such as approving new courses for instruction.

For example, the alma mater of one of our staff is a small liberal arts school in the Midwest with a full-time enrollment of about 1,800 students. That school pays at least $4,000 in annual dues to its main accrediting association in addition to any fees for special visits.

I am not criticizing the accrediting bodies for charging the fees, but I thought it important that the members know this aspect of their operations.

Regarding the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL), I am looking forward to hearing about the level of the interaction with SAAs in improving on-the-job training (OJT) and apprenticeship programs.

Again, thank you, Madam Chairwoman, as always for your leadership in this area and look forward to hearing the testimony.

[The statement of Congressman Boozman appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Mr. Boozman.

I would also like to welcome all of today's witnesses, and I very much appreciate your testimony as your views and insights are critically important to us in examining this important issue.

I am particularly interested in understanding and exploring the views and perspectives on the role and function of State Approving Agencies, funding needed to perform those functions, overlap in the approval process, and coordination between Federal and State agencies. I look forward to hearing from all of you.

We have been informed that votes would have been called about 25 minutes ago, so they could be called at any time. We will go ahead and start testimony and take as much as we can from our first panel and get to any questions of the Subcommittee.

I think we will go ahead and start with the first panel. Joining us is Mr. George Scott, Director of Education, Workforce and Income Security Issues for the United States Government Accountability Office.

That gives us 15 minutes, so we will at least start perhaps with Mr. Scott's testimony in just one moment. I will introduce the other folks on the panel.

Ms. Joan Ryan, President of the National Association of State Approving Agencies; accompanied by Mr. Donald Sweeney, Legislative Director of the National Association of State Approving Agencies, and my friend, Mr. George Summerside, Veterans Education Program Specialist, South Dakota State Approving Agency. Welcome to all of you.

And, Mr. Scott, we will let that buzzer go and then we will begin with your testimony. I would ask each of our witnesses to do their best to limit their opening statement to five minutes. Your full written statement will be submitted for the record.

Thank you.

STATEMENTS OF GEORGE A. SCOTT, DIRECTOR, EDUCATION, WORKFORCE AND INCOME SECURITY ISSUES, U.S. GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE; JOAN L. RYAN, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STATE APPROVING AGENCIES; ACCOMPANIED BY C. DONALD SWEENEY, LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF STATE APPROVING AGENCIES; AND GEORGE W. SUMMERSIDE, VETERANS EDUCATION PROGRAM SPECIALIST, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE APPROVING AGENCY

 STATEMENT OF GEORGE A. SCOTT

 Mr. SCOTT. Thank you.

Madam Chairwoman, Ranking Member Boozman, and members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to be here today to discuss GAO's recent report on State Approving Agencies, SAAs.

In fiscal year 2006, the Department of Veterans Affairs paid approximately $19 million to State Approving Agencies. Under contract with the VA, SAAs ensure that education and training programs meet VA standards through a number of approval activities such as evaluating course quality and monitoring student progress.

My testimony today will focus on what changes have occurred in SAA duties and functions since 1995, to what extent VA's approval process overlaps with the efforts of other Federal agencies, and what additional value do State Approving Agencies bring to VA's education benefit program.

As you know, veterans and other qualified individuals receive VA education benefits that allow them to pursue various types of educational programs such as a degree program, an apprenticeship, or on-the-job training.

In general, these programs must be approved by a State Approving Agency in order for individuals to receive VA education benefits. The Departments of Education and Labor also assess education and training programs.

The Department of Education certifies post-secondary institutions for participation in Federal student financial aid programs through various oversight functions to ensure that these schools meet Federal requirements and that they are accredited and licensed.

Similarly, the Department of Labor is authorized to formulate and promote labor standards to safeguard the welfare of apprentices.

Given each agency's role, the potential for duplication of approval efforts among Federal agencies have been a congressional concern.

In our study, we report the legislative changes effective in 2001 created additional responsibilities for State Approving Agencies including promoting the development of apprenticeship and on-the-job training programs, providing outreach services, and approving tests for occupational licensing.

From fiscal years 2003 to 2006, funding for State Approval Agencies increased from $13 million to about $19 million to expand services and support the additional responsibilities. However, as you noted, its funding is scheduled to decrease beginning in fiscal year 2008.

Many education and training programs approved by SAAs have also been approved by other agencies. For example, about 69 percent of all programs approved by SAAs are also offered by institutions that have been certified by Education.

VA and SAA officials also reported that many apprenticeship programs approved by SAAs have also been approved by Labor. The agencies also have similar categories of approval standards, but the interpretation and application of these standards may differ.

For example, VA and Labor each require that facilities have adequate space and instruct their personnel to provide quality training, but the definitions of adequacy differ.

Despite the potential overlap, VA has taken few steps to coordinate approval activities with Education and Labor.

Additionally we found that VA does not require State Approving Agencies to collect information on the resources they spend on specific approval activities. The lack of such data prevented us from determining what portions of funds were spent on approval activities that may overlap with those of other agencies.

SAAs reportedly add value to VA's approval process through focusing on student services for veterans, ensuring the integrity of VA benefits, providing more frequent on-site monitoring of education and training programs that are provided by other agencies, and assessing and approving a small number of programs that are not reviewed by other agencies.

While VA does measure various outputs resulting from SAA activities such as the number of supervisory visits conducted, the lack of outcome performance measures makes it difficult to assess the significance of such activities.

In conclusion, VA, Education, and Labor have various standards and processes in place to ensure that Federal funds are spent on quality education and training programs. While we have identified some overlap in approval efforts across these agencies, the full extent of the overlap is unknown. It is important that VA work with other Federal agencies to determine how the scope of its approval process can be streamlined to reduce overlap.

Furthermore, developing outcome measures to more fully evaluate SAA performance is important to managing the program and improving results.

To help ensure that Federal dollars are spent efficiently, we recommended that VA take steps to monitor its spending on approval activities and identify whether any resources are spent on activities that duplicate the efforts of other agencies.

We also recommended that VA establish outcome-oriented performance measures to assess the effectiveness of State Approving Agencies' efforts.

VA agreed with our recommendations and stated that it will take action to implement them. They will continue to monitor VA's progress in addressing these issues.

This concludes my statement, and I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have. Thank you.

[The statement of Mr. Scott appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Mr. Scott, and thank you for the report and the questions that will be derived from that report throughout the hearing today.

We have just under ten minutes before the vote and we generally only need a few minutes to get down for this first vote. Ms. Ryan, if you think you can confine your opening statement to five minutes, we can go ahead and get yours in now before we go down to vote. Okay. Thank you.

STATEMENT OF JOAN L. RYAN

Ms. RYAN. Chairman Herseth Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, members of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, we are pleased to appear today before you on behalf of the National Association of State Approving Agencies to provide comments on the functions of State Approving Agencies, the value added by SAAs, the issue of overlap in the work of various approving agencies, and funding needed for SAAs to carry out their responsibilities.

State Approving Agencies add value to the educational experience for veterans by promoting and safeguarding quality education and training programs, by ensuring greater educational and training opportunities, and by assisting the DVA in preventing fraud, waste, and abuse in the administration of the GI Bill.

State Approving Agencies carry out their mission through core functions of program approval, ongoing contact, and supervision, technical assistance, outreach, and liaison.

As State Approving Agencies working with a Federal program, SAAs are in a unique situation to network with stakeholders in education and training to coordinate the improved delivery of veterans' benefits.

Frequent interaction with officials at all levels within the State provides an understanding of how the system works which in turn creates a unique ability to assist veterans in accomplishing their training objectives.

As stated by a former Subcommittee staff director for the House Veterans' Affairs Committee in an upcoming SAA outreach film, SAAs are the face of the GI Bill at the State level.

We provide advocacy for veterans, educational consumer protection for veterans. We respond to veterans' education problems and prevent overpayments to veterans. We provide outreach. During the last ten years, we have tripled our number of outreach activities and job training opportunity. The number of active apprenticeship and on-the-job training facilities has increased over 100 percent in the last ten years.

Questions have been raised regarding possible overlap in the work of State Approving Agencies with other agencies. A recent GAO report states many education and training programs approved by SAAs have also been approved by Department of Labor. We disagree.

It is our understanding that Department of Education does not directly approve programs. It certifies institutions by relying heavily on accreditation which is primarily institutional in nature, not programmatic.

Moreover, accreditation is a voluntary, private-sector, quality enhancement process, not a government control mechanism.

Additionally, SAAs do work with other approval institutions such as State licensing and degree-granting authorities and accrediting agency personnel.

It is important to note the major differences between SAAs and accreditation. Why? Number one, in their mission, standards, and purpose and, number two, operationally in the depth, breadth, and frequency of their reviews. Each has a function, but the functions are not identical or duplicative. They are complementary.

Regarding outcomes measures, we agree that more can be done. For example, SAAs are heavily engaged in promoting the concept of life-long learning. We see more veterans who do not need a full-scale two- or four-year program of education to help them achieve their occupational goals. So our work with educational institutions has grown in the direction of evaluating and approving noncredit programs which we would begin to identify more clearly.

The total allocation for SAA activities is stipulated in Title 38. Each SAA's allocation is determined by a formula essentially based on the number of active schools and training establishments being supervised. The total allocation was capped at $19 million for 2006 and 2007. If no action is taken, in 2008 the cap will revert back to $13 million, a 32 percent cut.

If the SAAs are unable to perform their duties to the fullest, veterans would invariably suffer. SAAs need funding stability in order to plan for and execute activities that meet the requirements of Title 38 between the State and the VA.

In order to provide an acceptable level of service to veterans, Congress, and the DVA and to continue to take on additional roles as needed, SAAs must consistently be funded at an adequate level.

Once restored to the current level of $19 million, the amount should be adjusted each year by a government approved COLA applied to other benefit programs.

In closing, Madam Chairman, an important reason for the existence of the State Approving Agencies is service to veterans. Every one of our activities from TAP briefings on bases to job and career fairs, from working with schools and registrars and college deans, to helping employers meet requirements for approval, each of these add values to the educational experience for veterans. It is our purpose and our passion. Because we are in the schools, job training sites, and on bases, we are the face of the GI Bill to veterans.

We would like to thank you and the members of the Subcommittee again for the opportunity to comment on the functions of State Approving Agencies, the value added by State Approving Agencies, the issue of overlap in the work of approving agencies, and funding needed for SAAs to carry out their responsibility so that the GI Bill remains the country's premier education assistance program bar none.

Mr. Sweeney and I would be happy to take questions later.

[The statement of Ms. Ryan appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Yes. Thank you, Ms. Ryan. I appreciate that.

Mr. Summerside, we are going to have to wait. Mr. Boozman and I need to get down to the House floor for a couple of votes.  We will be back hopefully within the half hour and then we will resume with your testimony and move to questions.

Thank you.

[Recess]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Okay. Well, thank you for your patience, and we will just move immediately then to Mr. Summerside's testimony. Please begin.

STATEMENT OF GEORGE W. SUMMERSIDE

Mr. SUMMERSIDE. Thank you, Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin and members of the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity.

I am pleased to appear before you today on behalf of the South Dakota State Approving Agency to discuss the functions of the State Approving Agencies and the value our agency has in the State of South Dakota.

Sixty years ago, Congress determined that each State should create an agency that approved programs within its boundaries and to determine which programs it was appropriate for veterans to enroll and receive their VA educational benefits.

After a few years, States realized that a national association was needed. And in 1948, the National Association of State Approving Agencies was formed.

One of the keys to the success of our association has been the use of technology. We created a viable internet website for the utilization of our members, our service partners, and our customer, the American veteran.

South Dakota has been the web master for this site since its creation in 1998. The primary responsibility and focus of our agency continues to be the review, evaluation, and approval of quality programs of education and training. Our agency conducts annual supervisory visits to each active facility to review the resources and capabilities which are required for continued approval. This on-site, ongoing supervision is vital to ensure these approved institutions continue to provide quality educational programs and meet VA compliance requirements.

We have become advocates for quality education and training for veterans and other eligible persons. We have developed service partnerships with veterans' groups and other agencies to facilitate even greater and more diverse educational opportunities for those we serve.

We provide technical assistance on a wide range of VA educational issues. Our staff is continually developing creative and innovative ways to promote and educate the public on VA educational programs.

Last fiscal year, we distributed over 6,000 brochures and other outreach materials to those within our service network.

You have asked what is the value of our agency. This can be best answered by those we serve. The following comments offer their opinion.

I was most appreciative for the professionalism from the person from the State Approving Agency who worked with my employer and me to design a tailored training program. No doubt, without availability of this education benefit, I would not have been able to accept this training position. Ron Boyd, State Adjutant, South Dakota American Legion.

On behalf of the veterans and their dependents attending the University of South Dakota, I can honestly claim that the support of our State Approving Agency is essential to our success. Jennifer Jost, Association Registrar.

The philosophy that bigger is better does have its limits and the impact on our smaller States can be negative. There is a need for each State to have a fully-staffed SAA so the veterans in that State do not suffer with additional delays in obtaining their educational benefits. These agencies are vital and any reduction in funding would negatively impact VA educational programs. Del Johnson, retired South Dakota ELR.

To ever lose or restrict the State Approving Agency due to Federal budget restraints would be a huge disservice to South Dakota veterans. Ken Lindblad, Beadle County Veteran Service Officer.

State Approving Agencies have not only ensured that those eligible for VA educational benefits enroll in quality education and training programs, but they have also served as a champion of veterans' educational benefits. Bill Locken, South Dakota Veterans Commissioner.

In the past few months, George Summerside has been an excellent client advocate. Without his dedication and loyalty, the veterans' education program would be nothing. Sincerely, Samantha Donley. She is a Chapter 35 recipient.

Our agency has a proven record of dedicated and professional service as depicted in the comments I just read. If a funding solution is not found, South Dakota's contract would be reduced by 32 percent next fiscal year. This would be a reduction of over $66,000. The many things we are doing in outreach and customer service would no longer be possible.

The testimonies today cannot truly measure our value. Our true value rests in the heart of each of the dedicated staff whose sole purpose is the approval of quality programs of education and training. Our agency's worth is found in the dedicated devotion to excellence and our Nation's veterans deserve no less.

In closing, Madam Chairwoman, I would like to thank you and the members of the Subcommittee again for the opportunity to comment on the functions of the South Dakota State Approving Agency and the value we add to our State. I would be happy to respond to any questions you might have.

[The statement of Mr. Summerside appears in the Appendix.]

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Well, thank you, Mr. Summerside, and all of our witnesses on the first panel for your testimony.

I have a number of questions, but I will defer to our Ranking Member and then we have also been joined by Mr. Hall who has another Subcommittee hearing that is going on simultaneously.

In an effort to accommodate him, I would like to ask Mr. Boozman to begin the questioning so that we can move to Mr. Hall for any opening statement or questions he may have and we will circle back to me at the end.

Mr. BOOZMAN. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

I appreciate your testimony, Mr. Summerside. I think that in visiting with your Arkansas equivalents, I think they would concur with your testimony or it would be very, very similar. So it is good to have you here to kind of give us some, you know, firsthand as to effects testimony.

For the State Approving Agencies, can you provide us some details how the State Approving Agencies differ from other organizations performing similar functions, if that makes sense?

Ms. RYAN. I would like to give that to Mr. Sweeney, if you do not mind.

Mr. BOOZMAN. Yes.

Mr. SWEENEY. I think Ms. Ryan really summed it up in her comments when she said the Department of Education's process relies heavy upon accreditation which is primarily institutional.

The Department of Education certifies institutions that offer programs to those people who are entitled to or eligible for Title 4 funding.

There is a huge difference between saying that programs approved by State Approving Agencies are also approved by the Department of Education. As I said to one of the staff members during the break, it is not quite 180 degrees, but it is close to 179. There is a huge difference between certifying institutions that offer programs than approving each and every program in accordance with provisions of Title 38.

The basis for Title 38, beyond ensuring the academic integrity and quality of a learning experience—which could be anywhere from a certificate program in automotive technology to a Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering—is also to ensure that the provisions of Title 38 that pertain to payment of benefits are in place as well. They are intertwined.

So when we talk about the differences between the two processes, Mr. Boozman, if I understand the question correctly, it seems like much of this really centers around accreditation. Am I correct in the intent of the question more so than it is, for example, State licensing or degree granting authority? It's really around accreditation. And the vast majority of accreditation is institutional.

For example, before leaving the State of Maine where I happened to be—we are all volunteers. The National Association of State Approving Agencies has no paid staff. I mean, I am the Director of the Maine State Approving Agency. Joan is the Director of Illinois. We take on these titles of President and Legislative Director and basically what it does, it keeps us in the office to eight o'clock at night and on weekends.

But by and large, one of the things that I took a look at before leaving the State of Maine was how many of the University of Maine system programs have specialized accreditation. Now, that gets us a little bit closer to the process utilized by State Approving Agencies.

Stop me if I am losing you here, but there are the various types of accreditation that we refer to in our written testimony, there is institutional accreditation, there is programmatic accreditation.

And the programmatic accreditation is probably the closest that you will find to the State Approving Agency process where we take a look at the legitimacy of the objective, what is that program objective, is it, for example, someone that wishes to be an automotive technician, what does it take to learn those skills, how are those skills taught, by whom, and under what circumstances.

And Title 38, as the Committee is aware, is quite prescriptive in that regard with respect to admissions requirements, credit for prior learning, satisfactory progress, all those kinds of things that pertain to student enrollment.

Well, anyway, taking a look at the University of Maine system of which there are seven campuses, we have roughly about 600 programs. A little over 125 have specialized accreditation, so that leaves 500 or close to 500 that are strictly viewed as, quote, approved under an institutional umbrella of accreditation, not programmatic, institutional.

That institutional accreditation, and I have had the privilege and honor of serving on a number of accrediting teams over the years. I have about close to 35 years in the field of education. I have been an administrator. I have served as an instructor and again on accrediting teams.

That process, when I say institutional, I could go on for hours on this just to give you some idea of what I mean by institutional, but suffice it to say for the hearing purposes, it is far more superficial than the programmatic accreditation and the process used by State Approving Agencies.

And I thank you for all the time you have given me because I think I have already gone too far.

Mr. BOOZMAN. No. That is fine.

Let me just ask one more thing if it is okay, Madam Chairwoman? My time is up in a little bit.

But I guess really the bottom line, and you alluded to it, Mr. Summerside, with the cutting in funding, what it would do in your State.

Again, if we go from the current $19 million to $13 million, what is the practical effect that that is going to have on the program?

Ms. RYAN. The effect will be local. Each State may approach it a little differently. There are some States who may, in fact, choose not to contract with VA, some of the smaller States who have small contracts. If that is the case, then VA would have to pick up the approval function in that State.

There are some States who may not do outreach. There just will not be the time, the budget. There are States who will lay people off, I have no doubt. But, you know, it is an individual, it will be a local decision how it is made.

Mr. SWEENEY. Is it possible to add to that, Mr. Boozman?

I think a big piece for us is that State Approving Agencies truly believe that, as Ms. Ryan stated in her closing remarks, the GI Bill should be the premier educational assistance program in this country bar none.

We have one percent of our population defending the other 99 percent and for many of us these days, we are not sure how large of a portion of that 99 percent really care about the other one percent.

Veterans, as Mr. Summerside said, deserve no less than the fullest attention that we can give. Removing the amount of funding that is currently provided a State Approving Agency is definitely going to jeopardize, after 30 plus years in the business, is definitely going to jeopardize the success of the GI Bill, no doubt in my mind.

We are, as stated earlier, the face of the GI Bill at the State level. The level of interaction that we have with the players—there is no comparison to other processes. That level of interaction gives us an opportunity to not only know the folks but know the systems, but also to be able to identify what areas need attention and what areas do not really need attention. And that is what helps us to be as effective as I think we are.

Mr. BOOZMAN. Thank you, Madam Chair.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Yes. Thank you.

And thank you both to Ms. Ryan and Mr. Sweeney.

Mr. Hall, do you have questions for the panel?

Mr. HALL. Briefly. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman.

I apologize for being late and leaving early, but I am double and triple booked today.

But I thank you, panelists, for your testimony which I have been reading. I heard part of Mr. Summerside's testimony that was given earlier.

I just want to say that the cut from $19 million or the drop this action has taken from $19 to $13 million seems like whoever made that decision must have made it in a vacuum.

But there is a lot of talk going on now on the full Veterans' Affairs Committee and the Subcommittees and when I go home and meet with veterans in my district about outreach and communicating what programs are available, what help is available to our veterans.

And so I hope and believe that we will find a way to keep you performing your services that you have been so generously performing to date.

I wanted to ask whether there is a difference, whether you are seeing a difference in terms of program targeting or tailoring of programs for, yet this may be that it is too early in terms of OEF/OIF, but whether the veterans coming back from these wars are in need of different things or different kind of programs or different assistance than vets you worked with before to anybody who would like to answer or not answer.

Ms. RYAN. Well, one of our association's focuses in the last few years has been a concept of life-long learning. As I said in my statement, many of them do not want or need the two- or four-year college education. They want to, for example, learn how to start their own business, so now there are entrepreneurship courses that they can take and use GI Bill to do that.

There are the licensure and certification test reimbursements that they can get reimbursed, you know, they can get reimbursed for the cost of the course, those kind of things.

In Illinois, we are seeing a tremendous increase in the on-the-job training and apprenticeship. Many of them do not want to go to school, do not want to go to college. They want to work. They have families. They are older. So that has been a big increase for us.

And, you know, employers in the State are very, very interested in hiring veterans. You know, they recruit for veterans. They love having them. And so it is an easy sell in many ways.

Mr. HALL. Thank you.

And I am just curious. How much overlaps are you aware of or any of you aware of between the work that you do and the work that is being done either by the VA or by the VSOs? I mean, do you consider the work that you do to be filling a unique niche that otherwise would go unfilled?

Ms. RYAN. Absolutely. And I do not want to overstate it, but we really are the face of the GI Bill out there in the schools and in the job training establishments. When we approach our approvals, we do it from the standpoint of Title 38, what is required for veterans, which is different sometimes than for just students in general.

Mr. HALL. And, lastly, maybe, you two, you could just pick a figure out of the air, what do you think this 2008 budget should allot for SAAs?

Ms. RYAN. We would be happy with 19 percent or $19 million.

Mr. HALL. Nineteen percent increase?

Ms. RYAN. Yeah. No. No, no, no, no. I am thinking of the COLA.

Mr. HALL.  If we continue the existing funding, you—

Ms. RYAN. Yeah, what the COLA would be.

Mr. HALL. You could work with that?

Ms. RYAN. Yeah. That would be adequate for sure.

Mr. HALL. Thank you very much, Madam Chairman. I yield back.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you, Mr. Hall.

Mr. Summerside, did you have anything you wanted to add to Ms. Ryan's answers to Mr. Hall's question from your perspective?

Mr. SUMMERSIDE. I can just say in South Dakota, I know if there is anything to do with VA educational programs, the office they call is ours. That can be from a County Service Officer. That can be from a vet rep or a DVOP. That can be from other agencies within State government.

You know, I do work closely with Department of Education in South Dakota with some of my high school approvals, but they do not look at the things that we look at. They do not look at the things and they do not measure the things that the VA does.

You know, a lot of the things is not just the quality of the program, but it is also based on how they can measure the payment for that program as far as the VA and their benefits. And that is unique to State Approving Agencies.

Now, I am not as knowledgeable as my esteemed colleague, Don, over here, but I do know in our State as far as on-the-job and apprenticeship training, we are not a highly regulated State. A lot of our apprenticeship programs are nonregistered. They are not registered apprenticeships that have oversight of the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training.

And the other thing, the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training from my point of view has a wider spectrum to look at. We have one focus; it is the veteran. That is our only focus and that makes us uniquely qualified to serve them in this role.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Well, thank you for your response.

I would like to go back to Mr. Sweeny and Ms. Ryan, if that is okay, if I direct the question directly to Mr. Sweeney, because you both talked a lot about the differentiation between the State Approving Agency's process versus the DOE's accreditation process.

Would you wish to elaborate on where you see this same type of differentiation or not, perhaps taking issue with how the GAO report characterized overlap as it relates to the Department of Labor?

I think Mr. Summerside touched on it to an extent, but if you wanted to elaborate.

Mr. SWEENEY. Well, what I recall, and I brought this huge notebook and put everything in it, but it might take too long to find the page that I need to find so what I recall is this.  Certainly with registered apprenticeship programs where what is to be taught, for example, what knowledge and skills are to be taught, developed by the Federal Department of Labor or by the State Apprenticeship Councils where they exist.  George knows this probably better than I, with State Councils, it is very similar to institutional programs.  For example, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering, you compare that to an apprenticeship program that is registered and you know that your State Council has already taken a look at what is to be taught, what knowledge and skills are to be learned.  We can oversee that process in much less time in our evaluation than what it would take for a nonregistered apprenticeship program or what we term other on-the-job training.

And I think the Department of Labor did mention in their comments or the GAO did with regard to apprenticeship and OJT that Department of Labor has no influence whatsoever on OJT programs. They do not have responsibility for them. There is no jurisdiction. So that is strictly an SAA function.

I mean, for us, many times we are the only ones that take a look at that kind of a training program. We are the only ones that say it leads to a legitimate objective, here is what it is going to take to achieve the objective, here is what the process is going to be, and you can be reasonably assured that you will get a job in that occupation once you go through the process.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you.

Mr. Scott, let us give you a chance to respond to some of the testimony and the answers to questions already posed as they relate to the accreditation process. And you did mention where you see some overlap and obviously some concerns have been raised and some respectful disagreement with how that has been characterized.

When you undertook this review, did you conclude anything with regard to an approximate number or percentage of programs that are not reviewed by other agencies as just described by Mr. Sweeney?

Mr. SCOTT. Well, thank you, Madam Chairwoman. Just a couple points if I could in terms of clarification.

Just overall, I think looking at our report in terms of percentage of veterans and others enrolled in programs, the vast majority are, in fact, enrolled in an institution of higher education, colleges and universities. So from our perspective, that is one of the key areas to look at.

And as such, the Department of Education is not simply reviewing schools for accreditation purposes. The Department of Education also looks at schools for ongoing compliance with the rules and regulations required to participate in Federal student aid programs.

So I am hearing a lot of talk about accreditation, but that is just one part of the story. The Department has ongoing monitoring of colleges and universities and other schools who participate in Title 4 programs, the "Higher Education Act." So in our view, that is another level of on-site overview at the Department of Education.

I think more fundamentally one of the things that I think is important about this hearing today is that in light of the number of changes in Federal oversight of colleges and universities, since State Approving Agencies were first created, clearly there is a much different role now in terms of the Department of Education's oversight, in terms of their ongoing monitoring of these schools.

So I think it is appropriate to now take a step back and look at given the role of the Department of Education, what is, in fact, the appropriate role for State Approving Agencies in terms of their oversight and monitoring of institutions that have been certified by the Department of Education.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Well, let me stick with you for the remaining time I have and we will do another round of questions here.

Mr. Scott, are State Approving Agencies positioned to provide better site monitoring than other agencies as it relates to on-the-job training, apprenticeship programs, and others?

Mr. SCOTT. Well, I think clearly as we pointed out in our report, there are areas where State Approving Agencies do add value. I think the reason we recommended that the Department of Veterans Affairs sort of get together with the Departments of Education and Labor is to sort out exactly where are the overlaps.

I mean, clearly there are some areas where no one is looking on accredited schools and programs, for example. That is one potential area where SAAs clearly add value because no one is looking at those. I mean, clearly some of the apprenticeship programs, that is another area where they add value.

I think our more fundamental message, though, is it is important to take a step back, look, and sort of given the current funding problems that the SAAs are likely to face, where is the best way for them to use their limited resources.

And I think our recommendations to the Department of Veterans Affairs to take a look at the overall potential overlap will help sort of sort out where, in fact, it is best to use those limited resources.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you.

Mr. Boozman, do you have some follow-up?

Mr. BOOZMAN. The only comment I would make, Madam Chairwoman, and, again just really what he was discussing, I think it does make all the sense in the world for VA and the State Approving Agencies and GAO to get together and really sort out the overlaps.  Which is, it just does not seem that is being done. And so that certainly would be very helpful to myself and I think all of us, and our staffs are kind of sorting out where we go.

But that is really the only comment I would make and I yield my time.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. We have also been joined by Mr. Donnelly on the Subcommittee. I would recognize Mr. Donnelly for any opening statement or questions he might have for the panel.

Mr. DONNELLY. I would want to support the Chairwoman's comments, also our Ranking Member's as well, and yield back.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Let me follow-up on a couple of things. We know that some States have more than one State Approving Agency.

Ms. Ryan, which States have more than one and are there any areas of responsibility that are divided up there or is it a matter of population only, again in an effort to prevent what can be overlap or duplication of services and how we best maximize the resources that are allocated to each State?

Ms. RYAN. Okay. I can't tell you exactly how many States have more than one. Several have two. Often there is one agency that handles the schools, the other that handles apprenticeship and on-the-job training. More often the on-the-job training aspect is in a Department of Labor kind of agency, State Apprenticeship Council, something like that.

There are a couple where the division is with higher ed and nondegree and proprietary and nonproprietary. Basically, however, it is a local decision. Again, it is up to the Governor in each State to decide and appoint who is going to be the State Approving Agency in that State.

We have seen in the past, since more States have taken on the OJT and apprenticeship function, we have seen a few more with two contracts. We have had a few who have combined.

Mr. SCOTT.  Madam Chairwoman, based on the information I have, there are eight States with two State Approving Agencies.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Which are they?

Mr. SCOTT. California, Connecticut, Indiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Thank you.

For Mr. Summerside and Ms. Ryan, the issue of outreach and how your services have increased.  Could either of you elaborate on how your outreach activities through your State Approving Agency have increased since National Guard and Reserve deployments that began in 2003?

Mr. SUMMERSIDE. Madam Chairwoman, in the State of South Dakota, we kind of geared up for the activation of the Guard and Reserve in our State. I think there is over 3,000 that have been activated since 2003.

Our agency was the lead as far as a welcome home brochure and since 2004, we distributed a little over 14,000. It is kind of the mainstay when they do the demobs.

And that was the other thing Governor Rounds did. He obligated our division and other partners within our veteran service network to go actually to the sites where these National Guard and Reservists were being—the demob site. They would travel out of State wherever it was.

And a big part of those briefings was the part on educational benefits. Many times if I was not there or other staff were not there, I would receive calls on the various different things on educational benefits.

I recently did an outreach effort in Aberdeen. And at the end of that, it was an Army Reserve unit, there was various groups there and agencies and the longest line was the one to talk to me about educational benefits bar none. I was the one that was there far longer than anyone else.

We have a combination of effort as far as outreach. But, you know, this is not new and did not start in 2003 in South Dakota. It started 50, 60 years ago in South Dakota. On-the-job and apprenticeship training is a byproduct of that aggressive outreach effort that we have always done.

And in the last 25 years, we have been part of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. We have a direct connection not only with the veterans, the Guard, Reservists, and the dependents or survivors, but those county and tribal service officers and those veteran groups that make it just a great relationship in our development of any outreach plan that we do have.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Let me just ask you another follow-up question then. For you, Ms. Ryan, how many State Approving Agencies do you know have actually been present at the demobilization sites for National Guard or Reserve soldiers?

Ms. RYAN. I cannot tell you exactly. Many, many, many. We talk about it often in our national meetings. I can certainly get you that information.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Mr. Summerside or Ms. Ryan, you have already talked about a reduction in funding and how that would affect your outreach and customer service efforts.

As you made some decisions working with Governor Rounds and with the State Adjutant General, were the funds coming from the VA for the State Approving Agency?  Did you allocate more of the funding in the last two years to the cost associated with providing specific outreach or has it just been broader and some of the issues that we have talked to as it relates to your relationship with the processing of education claims and the veterans that are coming to you? Are you allocating funding differently in any way over the last five to six years?

Mr. SUMMERSIDE. The only thing that I can say from my perspective, we have always done outreach. Over the last couple of years, the VA has actually afforded us a payment for that outreach. And primarily in our State, it is the many outreach materials that we are able to—you know, sometimes we use a vendor as far as these quick reference guides that we provide on a wide range of topics, but specifically all the different chapters of education, you know, that is one thing that we progressively pursued in our State.

And then that is the in-house stuff that we do, the welcome home, the OJT brochure, the school benefits brochure. We have two different brochures that we have developed in our State. And the other things, the technical manuals that we try to use and train these service professionals within our State, the County Service Officers, the vet reps, and Veteran Service Organizations.

So to answer your question, we do have a line item for outreach over the last few years and I cannot go back to the exact contract year it started, but we have always done it somehow.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  Mr. Boozman?

Mr. BOOZMAN. Very quickly. On page 20 of the GAO report, there is a graph, a summary of the functions. I guess what I would like to know is if you all, the State Approving Agencies, could get with GAO and really provide a more detailed breakdown than what we have got on the page. I think it would be very helpful to me to know what these different things represent and exactly what you are doing and, know what Education and Labor is represented.

Again, if you could show us the contrast in this kind of vehicle, it would be very helpful. Thank you.

Ms. RYAN. We would be glad to do that.

[A follow-up letter, dated April 27, 2007, and supplemental information was  provided by Ms. Ryan and Mr. Sweeney in response to Mr. Boozman's request.]

Mr. BOOZMAN. Thank you.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. One final question for Mr. Summerside and Ms. Ryan. Ms. Ryan, you stated in your testimony as it related to the GAO recommendation for the VA to establish outcome-oriented performance measures and you acknowledge that more could be done in that area. I am interested in your and Mr. Summerside's perspectives on the other recommendation which would require SAAs to track and report data on resources spent on specific activities.

Could you comment on how you view that recommendation and the administrative ease or difficulty in tracking and monitoring these activities?

Ms. RYAN. We already do track the activities pretty extensively. We have quarterly reporting. George has developed a pretty extensive mechanism to do that. We report, you know, all kinds of numbers, outreach activities and approvals, and it is part of our self-evaluation process that happens at the end of the year.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  And each State Approving Agency does that or is this—

Ms. RYAN. Absolutely.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Okay.

Ms. RYAN. Yeah, absolutely.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN.  So this would be a matter of sitting down with the folks at the VA who agreed with that recommendation, showing them what you have—

Ms. RYAN. Yes. Yes.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. —and making any changes that may be necessary, but perhaps none would be required as they see the depth and breadth of what you are tracking?

Ms. RYAN. Right. And they have access to that information.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Okay.

Ms. RYAN. They do have that. What we do not do is take it to the next step where we assign dollar figures to what we do, you know, X amount of dollars for outreach, X amount of dollars for approvals. We do not do that at this time.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. How difficult would it be to do that?

Ms. RYAN. It would be difficult.

Ms. HERSETH SANDLIN. Okay.

Mr. SWEENEY.