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Witness Testimony of Dr. Susan Kelly, Deputy Director, Transition to Veterans Program Office, U.S. Department of Defense

Chairman Flores, Ranking Member Takano, and other Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony on the Department of Defense views (DoD) on legislation currently being considered by the subcommittee.  My testimony this morning will be limited to H.R. 631, “Servicemembers' Choice in Transition Act of 2013", which would amend section 1144 of title 10, United States Code, pertaining to the Transition Assistance Program (TAP).  I defer to the views of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Labor as appropriate, on the remaining bills.
The Department appreciates the continued interest and support of this subcommittee for all members of the armed services but in particular for those preparing for their transition from military service.  While we believe the intent of this bill is to improve the transition process for separating Service members, we have concerns over how it would, if enacted, contradict the requirements of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 (Public Law 112-526), codified in Chapter 58, title 10, United States Code.  The VOW Act was intended to prepare transitioning Service members to join, and be competitive, in the labor market by using the skills, knowledge, experience and benefits they have earned.  After a thorough review of this legislation, the Department is unable to support this bill as we believe it would not only undermine the progress already made in the redesign of the Transition Assistance Program, but would also potentially disadvantage our Service members  and our ability to ensure they are “career ready”.
In compliance with the VOW Act and in accordance with the recommendations of the Veterans Employment Initiative Task Force, the Department of Defense, Military Departments and our interagency partners are successfully implementing the redesigned TAP.  The redesigned TAP, including the new curriculum called Transition GPS (Goals, Plans, Success) is aligned with the VOW Act, as codified in Chapter 58, title 10, United States Code, which requires all eligible Service members discharged or released from active duty after serving at least 180 continuous days or more (including National Guard and Reserves) participate in Pre-separation Counseling, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Benefits Briefings and the Department of Labor (DOL) Employment Workshop.  Although some Service members may be exempted from attending the DOL Employment Workshop, every Service member is required to  attend Pre-separation Counseling and the revised VA Benefits Briefings.  
Additional components of the redesigned TAP include specialized tracks developed for Service members to tailor their transition program to correspond with their expressed interest in achieving their future employment goals through Higher Education, Career Technical Training, or Entrepreneurship.  These specialized tracks are being piloted now to collect critical feedback and Service member assessment in order to develop the curriculums that will be phased in by fiscal year 2014.  The cornerstone of the redesigned TAP is the concept of Career Readiness Standards.  These defined standards correspond to deliverables that all Service members meet prior to separation, like a 12 month post separation budget.  The value of the Career Readiness Standards in ensuring the Department equips our Service members with the tools they need to become valued, productive and employed members of our labor workforce cannot be overstated.   The Department and our partners have been fully engaged in implementing the redesigned program.   
The VOW Act requires the DOL Employment Workshop to be a mandatory portion of TAP.  H.R. 631 conflicts with the VOW Act by making the full employment workshop one of a number of optional choices for transitioning Service members.  As the VOW Act intended, Service members benefit from the employment workshop regardless of their immediate plans upon leaving military service because all separating Service members will need these critical employment, resume, and interview skills at some point in their future.  
Additionally, under H.R. 631, the DOL employment workshop curriculum would need to be significantly redesigned to fit into the bill’s mandated structure, curriculum, and delivery schedule.  By giving the Department a defined time to educate these Service members, the proposed legislation undermines the adult learning principles, intended learning objectives, and curriculum design that forms the underpinning of the Transition GPS curriculum.  For example, the Department of Labor currently requires three full days of adult learning instruction, which would be limited to two days under the optional election prescription of H.R. 631.  The prescriptive timeframe reduces the ability of the entire redesigned TAP to evolve into the Military Life Cycle (MLC) TAP and mature to keep pace with changes in adult learning, adjust to include skills-building that our Service members tell us they need, and respond to developments in the job search arena.
As previously mentioned, at the heart of the redesigned TAP are the Career Readiness Standards.  The learning objectives for the Transition GPS curriculum component, as well as a robust, portable, virtual curriculum, build the skills needed to develop the concrete deliverables required to meet the new Career Readiness Standards.  The Department believes that the best course of action at this time is to continue the implementation of the new redesigned TAP in accordance with the VOW Act and the recommendations of the Veterans Employment Initiative Task Force.  We will continue to work with your staff to keep this subcommittee updated on our progress.   
In summary, the changes to the redesigned TAP as proposed by H.R. 631 would be a setback to the current program implementation and would undo months of collaborative, interagency progress.  It would impose an additional fiscal burden in redesign, piloting, potential classroom space and would generate implementation challenges for the Military Services.  Finally, we feel this legislation would decrease the quality of the overall curriculum and reduce the effectiveness of the redesigned TAP.  Ultimately this legislation would stymie the current progress and prevent our program from meeting the intended outcome, which is to prepare Service members to effectively transition to valued employment in communities across our country.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.  On behalf of the men and women in the Armed Forces and their families, I thank you and the members of this subcommittee for your continued steadfast support.