Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of Honorable Marlin Stutzman, Chairman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity
Good afternoon. We are here today to receive testimony on the redesigned Transition Assistance Program or TAP. To differentiate between the original TAP and the redesigned version, I am going to refer to the new program simply as TAP 2.
TAP has been around for about 20 years with little change over that time other than to update the changes in the various benefit programs. And while the original TAP was, let’s say, minimally effective, today’s participants and today’s civilian environment necessitated a revised approach from what had become known as “Death by PowerPoint.”
Until the passage of last year’s VOW to Hire Heroes Act, TAP was not mandatory, except in the U.S. Marine Corps, and I am pleased that the other Services have committed to comply with the VOW Act’s mandatory attendance provisions. What the VOW Act did not do was describe what types of training must be provided under the mandatory attendance provision and I would like to offer some thoughts on what TAP 2 should provide.
Ultimately, the goal of TAP 2 is to smooth the way to civilian employment. That said, there are many paths to reach that ultimate goal and TAP 2 should offer participants training that reflects at least the primary paths. Following discharge, some servicemembers may choose to seek the full time permanent job path. Others will choose to use a path using their GI Bill or Vocational Rehabilitation benefits. Still others will choose the entrepreneurial career path or one involving training in the trades. Regardless, mandatory TAP 2 training must, and I repeat must, provide detailed training in each of these areas otherwise we are failing that one percent who defend us.
I have a couple slides to illustrate why the tailored approach is so important. If you will look at the monitors, this first slide shows the importance of ensuring that individuals who are going to use their GI Bill get a full explanation of how best to use their benefit. Slide 1 shows that 4 years of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for someone attending a private institution amounts to over $141,000. I would point out that the numbers are averages and can be significantly higher.
The second slide shows the curriculum DoD is implementing for TAP 2. You will note that it does not provide a timeframe for instruction in the various paths that I have mentioned. Rather, days 2, 3, and 4 are devoted entirely to job-hunting skills, something that is fine for those who intend to seek full time permanent employment following discharge.
But what about a typical class made of mostly first-term enlistees, 50% of whom indicate they intend to use their GI Bill benefits soon after discharge? What about those who want to start their own business or enter the trades? The DoD model of mandatory TAP 2 – as presented to us – does not appear to include training tailored to their needs.
I would offer that mandatory training must include those alternative paths and that forcing every servicemember to sit through 3 days of job-hunting skills at the expense of training tailored to their post-discharge intentions is a poor use of resources.
Slide 3 illustrates one way to achieve what I am suggesting.
To be fair, some DoD officials have indicated that students will have the “option” to attend more tailored training on days 6 and 7. Unfortunately, there seems to be a mixed opinion from officials as to whether those days are considered as part of the mandatory training.
My staff, along with the Ranking Member’s staff recently observed TAP 2 at Randolph Air Force Base and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. At Randolph, the class was mostly senior enlisted members, most of whom already had at least an Associate’s Degree and nearly all of whom intended to seek permanent jobs after discharge. They were given the DoD model which was appropriate for that class’ demographics.
The class at Miramar included primarily first termers wo received a more tailored model. Service specific pre-separation counseling and VA benefits were condensed to one day of training. The Department of Labor employment workshop was condensed into two days of training and the remaining two days allowed the Marines to choose a track that best fit their transition goals.
The staff’s observations were that the Marines enjoyed the choice of the tracks. The Marines confirmed that if the tracks had been pushed to second week and were not mandatory, their supervisors probably would not give them the extra time off.
I say that not to criticize those supervisors, but rather to emphasize what may be a significant weakness in the DoD curriculum.
It is clear to me that a tailored model is the better approach. A program of providing a core instruction summarizing the highlights of the detailed tracks followed by allowing the servicemember to choose a track as part of the mandatory coursework is, in my opinion, a superior approach to meeting the needs of TAP participants.
Finally, I want to address the oversight role of this Subcommittee. While I realize that what is now being taught under TAP 2 is in its formative stages, having DoD employees question Congress’ oversight role is inappropriate. I hope the confrontational attitude regarding our Constitutional oversight responsibility ends now. We are all working towards the same goal.
I now recognize the distinguished Ranking Member for his remarks.