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Submission For The Record of Ismael Ortiz, Jr., Deputy Assistant Secretary, Veterans' Employment and Training Service, U.S. Department of Labor

Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and distinguished Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of Labor’s (DOL or Department) views on an important piece of legislation that would significantly impact our Service members:   H.R. 2433, the ‘‘Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011” (the Act).  We appreciate your continued support of the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) and look forward to working with Congress to help our returning Service Members transition back to civilian life. 

To that end, the Department offers the following views on provisions of H.R. 2433 that would have a direct impact on DOL and VETS.  As explained in our analysis, the Department has significant concerns with some portions of this bill.

H.R. 2433 ‘‘Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011’’ 

Section 101—Veterans Retraining Assistance Program:

Section 101 of the Act would require the Secretary of Labor (the Secretary) to provide eligible Veterans with monthly payments of “retraining assistance” to pursue a post-service education at a community college or technical school.  Although DOL supports the intent of this section, we believe the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) should be the lead agency for three reasons.  First, the payments are funded out of a VA account.  Specifically, section 101(h) requires that the payments be made from amounts appropriated to the VA's readjustment benefits account.  Second, the bill would require VA to receive the necessary enrollment certifications from participating Veterans.  Finally, VA is in a better position to determine whether applicants are eligible for the program because of VA’s access to Veteran’s service records.

Section 201—Transition Assistance Program (TAP):

Section 201 would require the Secretary of Labor to contract with private entities to provide certain services to members of the Armed Forces who are separating from active duty (and their spouses).  The bill also specifies that the Secretary must enter into these contracts within twenty-four months of the date on which H.R. 2433 is enacted.

DOL has two concerns with this section.  First, the twenty-four month deadline is far too short.  Although VETS intends to transition to having all facilitation of the TAP Employment Workshop done by contract facilitators, the move will take time.  The transition to all contractors will take over two years to implement fully because of the following: 

  • First, VETS is currently working with a contractor to redesign the TAP curriculum that the contract facilitators will utilize.  In order to maintain stability during the various stages of the curriculum redesign of TAP, we believe it most appropriate to extend an existing contract that provides VETS with facilitation services.  It would be unnecessarily complicated to redesign TAP while simultaneously transitioning to a new contractor to provide all-contract facilitators.
  • Second, a new award for facilitation services will take time to plan, compete, award and execute.
  • Third, once a new facilitation contract has been awarded, that contractor will need to hire, train, and deploy facilitators
  • Finally, Status of Forces Agreements for the new facilitation contractor to work in the host countries overseas will take months to complete

In order to continue to provide the nation’s warriors and their families with the seamless support they deserve, the timing should be revised to provide the Secretary with greater flexibility. 

Second, VETS is concerned that the proposed legislation would require the Secretary to contract for services that are already assigned by statute to employees in the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program[1] (DVOP)  and Local Veterans’ Employment Representatives[2] (LVER) program.  Specifically, the bill would reassign the responsibility for counseling and placement to contractors.    

The DVOP and LVER programs have been very successful, and have helped Veterans throughout the United States.  In fact, either a DVOP specialist or a LVER is out stationed half-time or more in 48 of the VA Regional Offices and in 19 satellite offices.  The work of these individuals helped the Department’s Jobs for Veterans State Grants (JVSG) Program in providing services to nearly 589,000 Veterans, and helped ensure that over 201,000 Veterans found jobs. 

Therefore, due to our concerns regarding the timing of the TAP redesign and the conflict this section presents with the statutory responsibilities of DVOP and LVER, DOL does not support this section as written.  However, DOL could support this section if it were amended to include more flexibility of time in the implementation of the contract facilitators and to preserve the roles and responsibilities of the DVOP/LVER positions

Section 202—Mandatory Participation in Transition Assistance Program:

Section 202 would require the mandatory participation of members of the Armed Forces in the Department of Labor’s Employment Workshop component of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) unless there is a documented urgent operational requirement that prevents attendance.  We believe that all transitioning Service Members who plan to enter civilian employment would benefit from attending the Employment Workshop, but defer to the Department of Defense (DoD) as to whether it should be a mandatory component for all transitioning Service Members.

Section 203—Report on Transition Assistance Program:

Section 203 would require the Secretary of Labor to:  1) report to Congress, annually, the number of members of the armed forces eligible for assistance under the Employment Workshop portion of TAP who participated in the program within 30, 90, and 180 days of being separated from active duty, and the percentages of which participated in each time frame; and 2) contract out an audit of the program at least every 3 years, and submit the results of the audit to Congress, VA, DoD, and DOL.  This audit would be funded through the JVSG program.

We believe that the report required in (e) (1) more properly belongs to DoD and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  DOL does not have access to the information required in the report.  Only DoD and DHS know when a Service Member will be separated from active duty.  DOL would report Employment Workshop participation information to DoD in order for them to note attendance in the Service Members' records.

Since the bill assigns the audit contracting requirement to the Secretary of Labor, it appears to require an audit of the Department’s Employment Workshop, which is the only component under the Secretary’s direct supervision.  As this Committee is aware, TAP is an interagency program designed to assist returning Service Members as they transition back into civilian life.  TAP consists of five components and is delivered in partnership with DOL, VA, DoD, and DHS.  The five components include:

  1. Pre-separation Counseling (3 hours)—This is a mandatory component for all transitioning  Service Members and is provided by the military services;
  2. TAP Employment Workshops (2.5 days)—These are voluntary on the part of the transitioning Service Member and are administered through DOL and its State partners;
  3. VA Benefits Briefing (4 hours)—These briefings are also voluntary and administered by the VA;
  4. Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP) (2 hours)—Also voluntary and administered by the VA; and
  5. One-on-One Coaching – This is a follow-up, provided by the military services, to the four components outlined above.

The TAP Employment Workshop provided by DOL is but one component of an interagency program for returning Service Members, which addresses their unique needs as they prepare to reenter civilian life.

The Department’s redesign of the TAP Employment Workshop, already underway, calls for the use of new performance metrics.  These metrics must be fully integrated and implemented before they can be sufficiently evaluated.  In particular, the redesign will include metrics and gather input from participants at three “moments of truth”:

  1. At the conclusion of the TAP Employment Workshop - attendees will evaluate the delivery, content, approach, resources, and setting;
  2. During the job search (when attendees are actually applying what they have learned) – they will evaluate the relevancy and effectiveness of the workshop’s content and approach; and
  3. After securing employment—attendees will be asked how useful the workshop was in helping them obtain a job or career opportunity, how rapidly the program helped them assimilate into the work culture of their new organization, and whether the program helped them become positive contributors to their organization.

The performance metrics for the new TAP Employment Workshop will allow for the continual analysis of the workshop and, if necessary, for adjustments to be made.  We believe the new performance measurement system for the DOL Employment Workshop will accomplish the intent of the audit provision. Consequently, requiring a separate, outside audit every three years would not provide a meaningful benefit for the re-configured TAP Employment Workshop, and could, in fact, detract from the implementation of the performance metrics.

Moreover, we note that the Department’s Office of the Inspector General currently conducts audits of the Employment Workshop program.  We believe that this audit could fulfill the Congress’s intent, as would the Comptroller General review in Section 205, which we discuss later.  If an additional audit is needed, we believe it would properly fall under the jurisdiction of the Government Accountability Office, rather than being contracted for by the Secretary of Labor, as required by the bill.  Therefore, we do not support this section.

Section 204—Transition Assistance Program Outcomes:

Section 204 would require the Secretaries of Labor and DoD to jointly develop a method to assess the outcomes for individuals who participate in the Transition Assistance Program.  DOL supports the intent of this section but notes that the Secretary of VA should also be included because subparagraph (f) (3) asks for outcomes associated with education benefits that the VA has responsibility for tracking.   

Section 205—Comptroller General Review:

Section 205 would require the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a review of the TAP Employment Workshop and submit the results and recommendations for improving the program in a report to Congress.  DOL supports this section and believes this section eliminates the need for the audit required by Section 203 of the Act.

Section 301—Reauthorization and Improvement of Demonstration Project on Credentialing and Licensure of Veterans:

Section 301 would reauthorize and expand the demonstration project that links military skills to civilian jobs through licensing and credentialing.  DOL supports the intent of this section, but requests that the dollar limit be removed.  The Department believes it is unlikely that a sufficiently rigorous project could be completed for less than $180,000.  The Department also requests that the potential entities for this project be expanded to include all public and private entities to allow for the selection of the best proposal.  Finally, the Department requests that the submission date for the report to Congress be extended to 120 days after the close of the fiscal year to allow time for the project to be evaluated.

Section 302—Inclusion of Performance Measures in Annual Report on Veteran Job Counseling, Training, and Placement Programs of the Department of Labor:

Section 302 would create new performance metrics to track the employment rate of Veterans who received services from all DOL-administered job training programs.  The provision would also require that States track veterans’ average salaries and credential attainment.  The section would also require States to significantly modify and expand their processes to collect information.  

The Employment and Training Administration tracks program outcomes based on a set of common performance measures for entered employment, retention and average earnings for all workforce system customers, including Veterans.  The Department does not support this provision as written because it would in effect create a separate performance system for serving Veterans. 

Section 303—Clarification of Priority of Service for Veterans in Department of Labor Job Training Programs:

Section 303 would further clarify Priority of Service under section 4215 of title 38 USC and expand what is required in the DOL VETS’ Annual Report.  The update to the definition of Priority of Service is in line with the definition that appears in our regulations at 20 CFR 1010.200(b).  DOL would support this change. 

DOL also supports the intent of Section 303’s expansion of VETS’ Annual Report.  The bill would require VETS to include:  (1) an analysis of implementation of providing priority of service; (2) whether the representation of Veterans in such programs is in proportion to the incidence of representation of Veterans in labor market, including within groups that the Secretary may designate for priority under such programs, if any; and (3) performance measures to determine if Veterans are receiving priority of service and being fully served by DOL job training programs.  Under the current Priority of Service regulations, DOL tentatively plans to collect additional information to provide data on Priority of Service in DOL programs. 

Section 304—Evaluation of Individuals Receiving Training at the National Veterans' Employment and Training Services Institute

Section 304 would require that all Disabled Veteran Outreach Program Specialists (DVOP) and Local Veteran Employment Representatives (LVER) pass a certification test at the end of their National Veterans Training Institute training (currently operated by the University of Colorado at Denver).  The Department supports this section because it will enhance our ability to track performance but requests an effective date of 180 days to allow time to make required changes to courses.

Section 305—Pilot Program on the Use of Veterans Employment and Training Grant Funds to Provide Direct Training Services to Unemployed Veterans:

Section 305 would require the Secretary of Labor to carry out a three-year program to make grants to and enter into contracts with any of the ten states with the highest unemployment in the nation.  DOL does not support this section as written.  The Department believes that Veterans have access to training under the Workforce Investment Act and therefore the diversion of funds from the JVSG for a secondary training program is unnecessary.    

WIA offers comprehensive employment services, including job counseling, job search and referrals, resume preparation, and other assistance.  WIA also provides training through community colleges and other training providers for those in need of a credential or need to change or upgrade their skills.  These services are easily accessed through WIA’s network of nearly 3,000 One-Stop Career Centers nationwide, and Veterans receive priority of service for WIA programs and all other DOL-funded employment and training services.

Section 306—Requirements for Full-time Disabled Veterans' Outreach Program Specialists and Local Veterans' Employment Representatives:

Sec. 306 of the proposed bill would add additional language barring full-time DVOPs and LVERs from performing non-Veteran-related duties. It also adds a requirement that DOL conduct regular audits to ensure compliance with this prohibition, and says that if there are violations, then a State’s grants can be reduced. We believe the additional language is unnecessary. The current law, as well as VETS policy guidance, already makes clear that the role of DVOPs and LVERs is to help veterans find employment, and the audit requirement would needlessly divert scarce administrative resources. We recommend that the Committee strike Section 306 and maintain the current language in Chapter 41 of Title 38 of the U.S. Code.

Section 307—Report on Findings of the Department of Defense and Department of Labor Credentialing Work Group:

Section 307 would require a joint report by DOL and DoD on reducing licensing and credentialing barriers for ten military occupational specialties.  DOL supports this section but recommends subsection (c) be changed to allow the study to be completed within 12 months from the date of the award of the contract.  The report should be submitted to Congress no later than 90 days after the completion of the study.  This would allow sufficient time for a thorough study to be conducted.

Section 401—Clarification of Benefits of Employment Covered Under USERRASection 401 would clarify the definition of the terms “benefit”, “benefit of employment”, or “rights and benefits” under chapter 43 of title 38- Employment and Reemployment Rights of Members of the Uniformed Services.  The Department supports this section.

Section 502—Extension of Homeless Veterans Reintegration Programs:

Section 502 would extend the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program until 2016.  The Department supports extending this program.  HVRP is the only federal employment program designed specifically to address the employment problems faced by our Nation’s homeless veterans.  HVRP provides services to assist in reintegrating homeless veterans into meaningful employment and to stimulate the development of effective service delivery systems that will address the complex problems facing homeless veterans.  Employment is the linchpin by which a homeless veteran may start a successful journey back to society, regardless of whether the homelessness is long term or short term, first time or cyclical.

Conclusion

Again, I thank you for the opportunity to submit our views on this bill.  We look forward to working with this Committee to provide the Nation's bravest and their families with the best possible programs and services that we have to offer.


[1] Section 4103A(a) of Title 38 of the U.S. Code requires DVOPs to “carry out intensive services.”  This broad mandate has been interpreted to include counseling. 

[2] Under section 4104(b)(2) of Title 38,  LVERs are required to “facilitate employment, training and placement services.”