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.
Submission For The Record of Robert L. Simoneau, Deputy Executive Director, National Association of State Workforce Agencies
NASWA has long advocated for additional training resources dedicated to veterans as contained in H.R. 2433, the “Veterans Opportunity Act of 2001.” The following summarized our comments:
- NASWA supports the veterans retraining assistance program as described in Title I of H.R. 2433.
- NASWA supports extending the requirement for TAP participation all armed forces.
- NASWA asks the Committee to consider extending the provision of TAP to National Guard and Reserve members.
- NASWA supports Section 4114 of Chapter 41, Title 38, Credentialing and Licensure of Veterans demonstration project, and supports the changes outlined in H.R. 2433.
- NASWA supports a joint recommendation with NGA on Common Measures, but plans to study and provide recommendations for revised performance measures.
- NASWA supports additional training resources, especially those dedicated to serving veterans.
- NASWA supports the provisions in H.R. 169 and suggest changing the term, “JobCentral” to “the National Labor Exchange (NLX), powered by JobCentral.”
- In regard to H.R. 1941, NASWA is supportive of efforts to provide additional services to veterans who have exhausted their unemployment benefits under state law in H.R. 1941.
Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner and Members of the Committee, on behalf of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA), I thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony and to appear before you to discuss the legislation being addressed today.
The members of our Association are state leaders of the publicly-funded workforce development system vital to meeting the employment needs of veterans. This is accomplished through the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) and the Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives (LVER) programs, as well as other programs and initiatives offered through the publicly-funded workforce system.
NASWA serves as an advocate for state workforce programs and policies, a liaison to federal workforce system partners, and a forum for the exchange of information and practices. Our organization was founded in 1937. Since 1973, it has been a private, non-profit corporation, financed by annual dues from member state agencies, grants, and private sector alliance funds.
NASWA thanks the Committee for development of legislation to enhance services available for military members and veterans, their families, and to improve the transition of military members to civilian lives and careers. Helping veterans make a successful transition from their service in the military to successful civilian careers remains a significant challenge. I would now like to turn to the specific provisions of your proposed legislation.
“Veterans Opportunity Act of 2011”
Title I – Retraining Veterans
NASWA has long advocated for additional training resources dedicated to veterans. Although the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and other employment and training programs funded through the U.S. Department of Labor provide priority of services for veterans, the purchasing power of those funds is limited and decreasing. Section 168 of WIA, Veterans Workforce Investment Program (VWIP), dedicates training resources to veterans, but only a few states receive VWIP grants, and only a few local areas receive funding.
We acknowledge the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the “GI Bill of Rights,” revamped by the 1984 bill, the “Montgomery GI Bill,” and especially the Post 9/11 GI Bill of 2008, are excellent sources of education and training resources for veterans. The Post 9/11 GI bill significantly enhances educational benefits to cover various school expenses, including books and supplies. It also provides for the ability to transfer educational benefits to spouses or children.
Not every veteran can benefit from or take advantage of the GI bill. It is difficult to tell how the proposed training in Title I of H.R. 2433 would be funded and implemented, but the clause, “Payments of retraining assistance under this section shall be made by the Secretary of Labor through the Secretary of Veterans Affairs” sounds similar to the Service Members Occupational Conversion and Training Act or “SMOCTA” program. NASWA has several times recommended Congress consider refunding the SMOCTA program, authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1993 (P.L. 102-484), or a similar job training program. We believe one of the reasons SMOCTA worked so well is the program was administered jointly by the U.S. Departments of Labor, Veterans Affairs, and Defense. Funds were provided by the Department of Defense.
State workforce agencies considered SMOCTA to be one of the best programs to serve returning military personnel. SMOCTA was established in response to the impact on veterans who had been affected by the downsizing of the military, especially personnel who had no readily transferable skills. SMOCTA provided assistance in the form of reimbursements to employers to offset the cost of training recently separated service members for stable and permanent positions that involve significant training. Besides the reimbursements to employers, SMCOTA provided funds for assessments, development of training plans, and supportive services for the trainee.
H.R. 2433 focuses retraining assistance on the pursuit of a program of education as defined in Section 3452(b) of Title 38, United States Code; however, it also allows training on-the-job as covered under Chapter 36 of Title 38.
NASWA supports the veterans retraining assistance program as described in Title I of H.R. 2433. It promotes the inclusion of on-the-job training and alternate education programs as outlined in section 101 (b) Retraining Assistance of the legislation. We also appreciate that special consideration is provided for veterans who have been unemployed for at least 26 continuous weeks. Our members often cite the need for additional resources for older veterans. The requirement for these training funds to be used for a veteran who is at least 35 years old but not more than 60 years old should help address this issue.
Although we realize this is authorization legislation, we are concerned whether additional appropriation of funds would be available for such training services. If additional funds are made available, it will be important those funds also cover administrative costs.
Title II – Improving the Transition Assistance Program
The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) consists of comprehensive workshops at selected military installations nationwide. Many of these workshops have been conducted by state staff under the DVOP or LVER programs. While states have varying opinions regarding the move to contract administration of TAP workshops to private vendors, we understand the intent of ensuring TAP instruction is provided uniformly across the nation. NASWA encourages the continued involvement of DVOPs or LVERs in TAP workshops, to assist in connecting the transitioning member to the local workforce center during and after the workshop.
NASWA supports the change to require the participation of all members of the armed forces eligible for assistance provided by TAP. The benefits of participation in TAP have been proven and have been acknowledged by most transitioning members who attend the workshops. The U.S. Marine Corps’ policy to require participation in TAP has resulted in an average 85 to 90 percent participation rate, allowing for waivers or exemptions. We support extending the requirement for TAP participation to the all armed forces.
Many of our states have developed and expanded TAP workshops to include National Guard and Reserve units. We ask the Committee to consider extending the provision of TAP to individuals in these units transitioning from active duty to civilian life. Although many of these individuals, but not all, are job-attached, there still are many other provisions of TAP workshops that would benefit them.
The requirement for the Secretary of Labor to contract an appropriate entity to conduct an audit of the TAP program seems prudent. Section 203 of H.R. 2433 amends Section 144 of Title 10, United States Code, to indicate the Secretary of Labor shall use funds made available for the State grant program authorized under Section 4102 of Title 38. We recommend the audit contract not be funded from allocations made to states for the DVOP and LVER programs, which would reduce the ability of states to provide direct services to veterans.
Our only concern with Section 204, TAP Outcomes, is this section greatly expands the number of individuals potentially attending TAP. If state workforce agencies have the responsibility to track TAP participants, the reporting and tracking burdens placed on states will be significant. Current tracking and reporting systems used by the states often use antiquated computer systems and are difficult to change. In addition, establishing a method to build and implement an assessment system could require substantial resources. NASWA urges Congress to provide funding to make these changes.
One problem we often hear from our members is that the Department of Defense (DoD) cannot or will not share any personal information regarding transitioning members. The method to assess outcomes must include sharing of personal information of transitioning members between the Department of Labor and DoD; if DoD is not forthcoming with this information, expansion of the TAP is not likely to achieve the Committee’s goals.
Title III – Improving the Transition of Veterans to Civilian Employment
Often military experience and training do not transfer to civilian occupations, or more likely, are not understood or accepted by civilian employers or state or local licensing or credentialing entities. Unfortunately, this often results in military members unable to obtain employment in occupations they are proficient in, but lack the civilian credentials to obtain. Also, when pursuing education or training requirements for a credential or license, they typically discover they need to repeat the same type of training or classes they had in the military.
This is a serious barrier to many transitioning members, which keeps them from finding employment in the industry or occupation where they want to work. Through our National Labor Exchange (NLX) employer partners, we learned one of the most critical obstacles to the employment of veterans is their inability to secure formal credentials and certifications, even though they have received nearly equivalent training while in the military. Veterans must spend resources, including valuable time, to acquire formal civilian credentials when many already possess the skills.
NASWA supports Section 4114 of Chapter 41, Title 38, Credentialing and Licensure of Veterans demonstration project, and supports the changes outlined in H.R. 2433. Our only concern is with the change in Section 4114(h) Funding. The change instructs the Assistant Secretary to carry out the demonstration project by “using not more than $180,000 of the funds in each fiscal year that are appropriated … to be derived from amounts available to carry out Sections 4103A and 4014 of this title.” Although NASWA supports the credentialing and licensure demonstration project, we are concerned that the funds for the DVOP and LVER programs are again being diverted from direct services to veterans.
Section 302, Inclusion of Performance Measures in Annual Report on Veteran Job Counseling, Training, and Placement Programs of the Department of Labor, adds a number of performance measures for the provisions under Chapter 41, Title 38.
NASWA’s current policy is to support the NASWA and National Governors Association’s (NGA) proposed common measures for the reauthorization of WIA. The NASWA/NGA proposal recommends measuring the percent of program participants who are employed during the second quarter after exit, the percent of program participants employed during the fourth quarter, the median earnings of program participants during the second quarter after exit, and the percent of program participants who obtain an education or training credential during participation or within one year after exit.
NASWA supports common measures for all programs, including veterans’ programs in the workforces system. Although NASWA currently supports the NASWA/NGA proposal, we recognize the workforce system in general, and performance measures in particular, can be improved. One example suggested by a NASWA member is to establish measures at the point of entry or during participation, rather than after exit. NASWA will work with its members to study this and other ideas, and make recommendations in the future.
We are concerned with staff time required to implement and then track these measures, and with the cost and programming time to change computer-based reporting systems. Computer modifications to implement these additional performance measures could be quite complicated and expensive. If state workforce agencies are required to perform these computer modifications within existing budgets, it would diminish direct services to veterans. If the additional performance measures are added, we recommend the U.S. Department of Labor include the changes in its redesign of consolidated reporting and provide the states with programming options and funding to retrofit state reporting systems.
The additional language to clarify Priority of Service for Veterans in Department of Labor Job Training Programs is a subtle difference, but because there still seems to be confusion in implementing Priority of Service; we appreciate the clarification. The only concern we have with the additional reporting criteria for the Secretary’s Annual Report on Priority of Service is the potential increase in workload and costs for local and state workforce staff to track the information required for the assessment and the Report.
It is not clear what the overall purpose is for conducting a final pass-fail examination to evaluate the individual’s performance in receiving training as described in Section 304, Evaluation of Individuals Receiving Training at the National Veterans’ Employment and Training Services Institute.
The intent of the training is to increase the knowledge skills and abilities (KSA) of staff who undertake the training. The curriculum is designed to cover specific segments of KSAs staff need to accomplish their work. As with any training program, trainees come from different backgrounds and experiences, therefore having an assessment system that measures the gain in KSAs achieved by each student makes sense, but these need to be targeted to specific areas. A single final-pass fail grade may not be attainable, nor achieve the intent of the Committee.
The participants of the various classes start at different knowledge and experience levels. There are a number of different classes taught at the Institute and we are not sure if all classes would have the same requirement, including those for managers and supervisors. Much of each class is skill-based and requires practice in the classroom.
Although NASWA does not have an official position on the requirement for testing, we do question the value of a pass-fail examination. Each state has the responsibility for evaluating employees’ performance. If a sponsoring state or other entity receives a report that an employee failed the final examination, it is unclear whether the expectation is termination of the employee, reassignment to the same training, or other action. This could be in conflict with a state policy.
NASWA supports additional training resources, especially those dedicated to serving veterans. The pilot program to use state grant funds to enter into grants with the ten states with the highest rates of unemployment in the nation to provide training to unemployed veterans sounds great. However, the legislation says the state may use up to 25 percent of the state grant for the training program. This means that the ten states with the highest unemployment levels would need to reduce its DVOP and LVER staff funding by 25 percent in order to provide the training. If the funding for sections 4103A and 4004 would be increased significantly, this would be a great option. We often hear from our members that they wished the state grant would provide and allow for training veterans; however, this recommendation is based on additional funding. A 25 percent reduction in the funding of DVOP and LVER staff in a state would have a significant adverse impact on services to veterans.
We understand and support the intent of Section 306, Requirements for Full-Time DVOPs and LVERs; however, states and local workforce centers should still have some flexibility in order to maintain efficient delivery of services. In small offices, a DVOP or LVER may need to cover the telephones or greet customers when no other staff members are available. At limited times, DVOPs or LVERs serve military members (not a veteran), non-eligible spouses, or possibly a veteran who does not want to be identified as such on the records.
NASWA supports Section 307, Report on Findings of the DoD and USDOL Credentialing Work Group. This study of ten military occupational specialists has been in the process for some time. An examination of current initiatives and programs to promote credentialing of members of the Armed Forces and identify best practices that can be leveraged by all services to increase the transferability of military education, training, experience, and skills would help to reduce barriers to certification and licensure for transitioning members. This study would enhance the efforts to reauthorize and improve the demonstration project on credentialing and licensure of veterans described under Title III, Section 301 or H.R. 2433.
Funding cuts and efforts to improve the workforce system through automation have allowed states to serve more workers and employers, but has disrupted the ability to provide in-person, targeted reemployment services. While nearly all Unemployment Insurance (UI) claimants, including veterans, file for unemployment insurance via telephone or Internet, there is often limited in-person contact with one-stop career centers. NASWA is working with the U.S. Department of Labor to improve this connection.
During a recent hearing before this Committee, NASWA Executive Director Rich Hobbie mentioned a concept for the employment of veterans. The concept would require veterans collecting Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Servicemembers (UCX) to register with their local one-stop career center as a condition of receiving UCX and receive reemployment services. This process could be voluntarily piloted in a few states.
This approach would be targeted and timely, providing early intervention and information on the full array of job openings and employment and training services for recently discharged veterans. It also enhances the Jobs for Veterans Act, taking advantage of the Priority of Service provision to focus on veterans most likely to have difficulty finding employment.
If the Committee is interested, NASWA is willing to provide background information and suggestions for legislative language.
Title IV – Improvements to Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights
NASWA supports the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and has no concerns on Section 401.
Title V – Extension of Certain Expiring Provisions of Law
NASWA supports Section 502, the extension of the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Programs (NVRP). The NVRP programs provide important resources to homeless veterans and to avert veterans from becoming homeless. Our members work closely with HVRP grant recipients.
To require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to include on the main page of the Internet website of the Department of Veterans Affairs a hyperlink to the VetSuccess Internet website and to publicize such Internet website.
Section 1. Promotion of the VetSuccess Internet Website.
NASWA supports the provisions in H.R. 169 for hyperlinks on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ website for VetSuccess, USA Jobs Internet websites, JobCentral website and any other appropriate employment Internet websites.
We suggest changing the term, “JobCentral” to “the National Labor Exchange (NLX), powered by JobCentral.” NASWA in partnership with the DirectEmployers (DE) Association created the NLX, which allows NASWA and its state and business partners to have a direct involvement in making job connections for our nation’s veterans by creating a free electronic labor exchange service.
Promoting awareness of the VetSuccess website in national media outlets and conducting outreach to veterans of recent wars to inform such veterans of the website are sound business initiatives.
Although the list of websites in the legislation is not inclusive, we recommend the websites listed in H.R. 169 include the “Key to Career Success” website, which lists all one-stop career centers in the country and includes many other resources. The site is available at http://www.careeronestop.org/MilitaryTranstion/findLocalServices.aspx.
“Hiring Heroes Act of 2011”
Section 4. Training and Rehabilitation for Veterans with Service-Connected Disabilities who have Exhausted Rights to Unemployment Benefits Under State Law.
NASWA is supportive of efforts to provide additional services to veterans who have exhausted their unemployment benefits under state law. We also suggest earlier emphasis on reemployment of veterans who are likely to exhaust their unemployment benefits. We suggest legislation be clear whether the state workforce agency or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs would be responsible to determine eligibility for this program. State workforce agencies have responsibility for the UI programs in their state; the role of the UI program should be delineated.
Section 5. Assessment and Follow-up on Veterans who Participate in Department of Veterans Affairs Training and Rehabilitation for Veterans with Service-Connected Disabilities.
This section directs the Secretary to contact such veteran for follow-up at 180-day intervals. NASWA suggests legislation be clear whether the state workforce agency or the Department of Veterans Affairs’ would be responsible for conducting the follow-up. Currently, DVOP staff conducts the follow-up for Chapter 31 participants referred to the state workforce agency for placement services.
Section 6. Mandatory Participation of Members of the Armed Forces in the Transitional Assistance Program of the Department of Defense.
As stated in our comments for Title II of H.R. 2433, NASWA supports the change to require the participation of all members of the armed forces eligible for assistance provided by TAP.
Section 7. Follow-up on Employment Status of Members of Armed Forces who Recently Participated in Transitional Assistance Program of Department of Defense.
NASWA interprets this section to mean the state workforce staff, primarily the DVOP, would be required to conduct the follow-up activity for all Transitional Assistance Program (TAP) participants. This could result in a substantial increase in workload. Tracking former participants could be very difficult, and the more time that elapses after participation, the harder it is to find individuals.
Section 8. Collaborative Veterans’ Training, Mentoring, and Placement Program.
This section includes authorizing appropriations of additional funds to carry out the program as described in Section 8. NASWA would be concerned if the program used existing state grants funds. We appreciate the requirement for grant recipients to collaborate with DVOPs, LVERs, and the appropriate state and local board as defined in the Workforce Investment Act. However, collaboration takes time and if not well-defined, can mean a significant increase in workload for the DVOPs, LVERs and other staff.
Section 9. Individualized Assessment for Members of the Armed Forces Under Transition Assistance on Equivalence Between Skills Developed in Military Occupational Specialties and Qualifications Required for Civilian Employment with the Private Sector.
As stated in our comments for Title III of H.R. 2433, NASWA supports efforts to improve the ability of veterans to use their military experience and training to obtain required civilian credentials and licenses. A study to identify any equivalence between the skills developed by members of the Armed Forces through various specialties and the qualifications required for various civilian positions should be beneficial to understanding the differences in requirements and to assist in veterans obtaining civilian credentials and licenses.
Also, it makes sense to use the results of the study to implement individualized assessment of all TAP participants of the various positions of civilian employment in the private sector for which such member may be qualified as a result of the skills developed by such member through the member’s military occupational specialty.
Section 11. Outreach Program for Certain Veterans Receiving Unemployment Compensation.
NASWA supports the focus to provide outreach to covered veterans and provide them with assistance in finding employment. Past reemployment programs that provided resources to outreach and assist UI claimants to obtain employment have been very successful.
We reiterate the concept we proposed in response to Title III of H.R. 2433. The concept would require veterans collecting Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Service members (UCX) to register with their local one-stop career center as a condition of receiving UCX and receive reemployment services. This process could be voluntarily piloted in a few states.
This approach would be targeted and timely – providing early intervention and information – on the full array of job opportunities and employment and training services for recently discharged veterans. It also enhances the Jobs for Veterans Act, taking advantage of the Priority of Service provision to focus on veterans most likely to have difficulty finding employment.
If the Committee is interested, NASWA is willing to provide background information and suggestions for legislative language.
Section 13. Enhancement of Demonstration Program on Credentialing and Licensing of Veterans.
NASWA supports a demonstration program on credentialing and licensing of veterans. Credentialing and licensing after military service is a significant barrier for many veterans in finding employment in their field of experience and training.
NASWA and its members remain dedicated to improving the efficiency of the labor market and its labor exchange function, and improving the employment opportunities of our nation’s veterans. We are willing to assist the Committee and the U.S. Department of Labor in any way possible.
Thank you for the opportunity to address these important issues.