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Witness Testimony of Hon. Charles S. Ciccolella, U.S. Department of Labor, Assistant Secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training

Madam Chairwoman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to talk about veteran employment grant programs of the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS).  The Department is grateful for the interest of the Committee on these very important issues for veterans, especially for those veterans returning from the Global War on Terror who are interested in returning to a productive career.

VETS’ mission is to provide veterans and transitioning service members with the resources and services to succeed in the 21st Century Workforce by maximizing their employment opportunities, protecting their employment rights and meeting labor market demands with qualified veterans.  Our charter is a direct reflection of the nation’s commitment to meet the employment, training and job security needs of those who serve in military uniform. 

The enactment of the Jobs for Veterans Act (JVA), P.L. 107-288, in November 2002 has resulted in significant improvements in the provision of employment services to veterans and is showing a positive impact on the employment outcomes of veterans.  We are completing the fourth year of implementing the law, and we have seen major improvements.  My testimony today will describe some of those accomplishments. 

Overall, the JVA has provided opportunities to maximize the flexibility of the states to provide employment assistance to veterans, while simultaneously requiring states to be more accountable for performance outcomes.  The JVA redefined the roles of the Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program (DVOP) and Local Veterans’ Employment Representative (LVER) staff and redefined the federal-state relationship as a partnership.  Under the JVA, states are required to submit grant applications to VETS for DVOP/LVER funding, which VETS allocates to states in proportion to the number of veterans seeking employment in a state. These grant allocations also take into account the workload the states assume through the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) employment workshops.

Since much of the interface with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) service is through the workforce investment system, at this point I would like to briefly discuss that relationship.  VR&E and VETS continue to work in partnership, along with State Workforce Agencies (SWAs), on behalf of VR&E job ready veterans who are referred to and registered with the State Workforce Agencies for intensive employment services.  

Our partnership to increase the employment opportunities and placement in suitable employment of service-disabled Chapter 31 veterans is defined in a formal Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), and the results continue to improve.  That positive working relationship has also carried over into other initiatives and strengthened cooperation and coordination with VETS’ state partners. 

The JVA has provided the states with greater flexibility to adapt their programs to the unique needs of local areas where veterans need jobs and employers are seeking capable applicants in exchange for improved accountability.  Our outcome data, which includes the Entered Employment Rate and the Employment Retention Rate, indicates that we are making progress in helping veterans secure employment.  

During Program Year (PY) 2003, which ended on June 30, 2004 and encompassed the first year of implementation, the Entered Employment Rate was 57% for veterans and 53% for disabled veterans. At the end of PY 2005, outcomes for veterans and disabled veterans showed an increase in each category – to 61% for veterans and to 56% for disabled veterans, and, for the quarter ending March 2007, the Entered Employment Rate for veterans was 60% and 56% for disabled veterans.  The Employment Retention Rate for PY 2003 was 79% for veterans and 77% for disabled veterans.  Two years later, at the end of PY 2005, the retention rate for veterans increased one percentage point.  For the quarter ending March 2007, their retention rates were 79% and 78%, respectively.  This comparison of outcome data demonstrates the JVA is having a positive impact, and we hope to see more improvement in the future.  

Since implementing the JVA we have:

  • Issued specific guidance to states redefining the responsibilities of the DVOP specialists and LVER staff;
  • Developed training programs that support the JVA by: 
  • Addressing the new provisions of the law;
  • Incorporating the changes in DVOP and LVER responsibilities; 
  • Emphasizing the integration of DVOP specialists and LVER staff in One-Stop Career Centers to carry out the JVA requirement that services be integrated with the state employment service delivery system; and 
  • Disseminating a framework to apply veterans’ priority of service to programs funded by DOL.
  • Trained 11,935 participants (including state, federal and Veterans Service Organization staff) in 363 classes held between November 2002 and September 2007; 
  • Published regulations implementing the JVA-required state grant funding formula and applied this new methodology to calculate state grant allocations for FY 2004, FY 2005, FY 2006, and FY 2007 and to estimate those allocations for FY 2008.
  • Adopted new outcome-based performance measures. 

 I will now discuss actions we have taken in conjunction with the implementation of the JVA and recommendations made by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concerning performance reporting.

DVOP and LVER responsibilities

The JVA redefined the roles of the DVOP specialist and LVER allowing for a more general and flexible application.  Both positions can now be appointed by the state on a half-time or full-time basis as the state determines appropriate.  The DVOP specialist is primarily responsible for providing intensive, one-on-one services to the individual veteran with priority placed on the disabled veteran.  The LVER’s emphasis is on providing employment assistance to the veteran, as well as the bigger picture of facilitating employment, training, and placement services to veterans throughout the workforce system.  The LVER also assists in reporting on the character of services provided to veterans and state workforce agencies’ compliance with laws, regulations and policies regarding services to veterans.  We implemented these initiatives with the full participation of our stakeholder groups, including National Association of State Workforce Agencies, state workforce agency management staff, state veterans program managers, DVOP specialists, and LVER staff. 

Training

To implement the JVA, we instructed the National Veterans Training Institute (NVTI) to conduct initial orientation sessions for all states, to redesign the employment specialist training courses and to provide readily available information on-line, 24 hours a day.  These sessions were attended by DVOPs, LVERs, local office managers, and other state workforce agency officials as well as VETS’ staff and were hugely successful.

The Veterans Services Orientation course was redesigned to provide an overview of the law and reflect the new roles and responsibilities of the LVER staff and DVOP specialists.  The Case Management course was redesigned to focus on the provision of intensive services by DVOP specialists.  A new course, Promoting Partnerships for Employment, was specifically built around the new roles and responsibilities of the LVER in the workforce system.  This course focuses on applying labor market information, working closely with agency partners, learning to be the veterans’ representative for office partnerships, informing other staff on the requirements under JVA, and developing a public relations plan.

With the changes and new curriculum development, from November 2002 to September 2007, NVTI has conducted 363 classes with a total of 11,935 participants. 

Funding criteria

State grant allocations to fund DVOP and LVER staff are determined using a formula that is based on each state’s relative share of the total number of veterans in the United States who are seeking employment.  States indicate how veterans will receive priority of service within that state in both the state plan and the annual update to the state plan.  

Monitoring

As part of the JVA implementation, the Department and VETS implemented a comprehensive performance accountability system.  During the year, states submit quarterly manager’s reports on services to veterans that describe how well the state is achieving its performance goals, and how veterans’ priority of service is observed with regard to intake, job referral, and other One-Stop Career Center activities.  VETS State Directors also conduct assessments, which are focused on technical assistance and needed training, and reflect a stronger emphasis on the partnership between the state and VETS. 

Performance measurement

In order to measure the outcomes associated with veterans served by the One-Stop Career Center system, VETS identified two outcome measures:

  • Entered Employment Rate;
  • Employment Retention Rate.

These two measures are applied to the outcomes achieved by all veterans and to the outcomes achieved by disabled veterans, producing a total of four measures for which performance targets are negotiated with each state workforce agency.  The target levels negotiated for these four measures vary among the states but they provide the baseline by which federal and state partners develop strategies to improve employment outcomes for veterans.  

In addition to the negotiated performance targets, VETS also adopted the Entered Employment Rate and the Employment Retention Rate for veterans and disabled veterans as Departmental performance targets in the Department of Labor (DOL) Strategic Plan.  

To provide a further indicator of performance, VETS initiated a program of state Grant Based Performance Measures for outcomes associated with the services provided specifically by DVOP specialists and LVER.    Since PY 2004, these measures have been negotiated with each state, and they incorporate numerous data elements directly related to the provision of services.  

The attachment to my testimony lists these performance measures. We recommend to states that they be used in developing DVOP and LVER performance plans. 

GAO Review of the JVA Performance Measures

GAO recommended that VETS consolidate all performance measures for the DVOP and LVER programs, including those for disabled and recently separated veterans. The current approach to grant-based measurement for the Jobs for Veterans State Grants separately assesses the outcomes experienced by disabled veterans who are served by DVOP specialists, and recently separated veterans who are served by LVER staff. DOL recognizes that this approach omits significant "cross-program" outcomes achieved by disabled veterans who are served by LVER staff, and recently separated veterans who are served by DVOP specialists, as documented by GAO.

In implementing this recommendation, DOL will convene a working group composed of programmatic and measurement experts to thoroughly consider the implications of realigning the measurement of grant-based outcomes on the basis of the combined activities of DVOP specialists and LVER staff. The group also will consider how to include "Average Earnings" as a measure of grant based performance, as suggested in the body of the GAO report.

GAO also recommended that VETS implement a weighted system for the DVOP and LVER performance measures that takes into account the difficulty of serving veterans with barriers to employment.  DOL previously exerted an intensive effort to develop a system for weighting grant-based outcomes and issued guidance intended to lead to application of weighted measurement. That guidance was suspended, in part because workforce professionals in the field found application of the weighting to be unreasonably complex, and in part because the current reporting system offers limited options to support the implementation of weighted measurement.

However, the DOL working group previously mentioned will study the issue of weighted performance measures and evaluate how the framework for grant-based performance measurement for PY 2008 can be realigned to assess outcomes achieved by veterans who are served by DVOP specialists and LVER staff.  In addition to this, DOL's proposed Workforce Investment Streamlined Performance Reporting (WISPR) System is expected to be implemented in PY 2008.  DOL is confident that the specificity of the results to be reported through WISPR, and the application of those results in light of the lessons learned from prior experiences, will prove helpful to DOL's efforts to successfully implement  weighted measurement.

PART

During 2005, the DVOP/LVER program was evaluated using the Office of Management and Budget’s Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART).   The program was rated as moderately effective, the second highest ranking.  I believe that the PART review has provided us with information that we can use to improve program performance, both at the national level and at the grass-roots level where veterans are served.

Madam Chairwoman, the Department of Labor takes very seriously the mandate of the Jobs for Veterans Act and believes we have made major accomplishments in its implementation. I assure you we will work diligently to address, and where appropriate, take corrective action to fulfill this Congressional mandate.  

Veterans Workforce Investment Program

VWIP grants support efforts to ensure veterans’ lifelong learning and skills development in programs designed to serve the most-at-risk veterans, especially those with service-connected disabilities, those with significant barriers to employment, veterans who served on active duty in the armed forces during a war or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized, and recently separated veterans.   The goal is to provide an effective mix of interventions, including training, retraining, licensing and certification, and support services that lead to long term, higher wage and career potential jobs.

Services provided by grantees include customized case management services with employment-focused case management services coordinated with local DVOP specialists and LVER staff.  The DVOP specialists and LVER staff act as a liaison to the VWIP grantees and connect veteran participants with DOL’s nationwide network of One-Stop Career Centers. An important emphasis in this activity is on recently separated veterans in support of the Secretary’s goal of a Competitive Workforce.   VETS will continue to promote initiatives in high demand occupations such as health care, education, community services, construction, information technology, and other growth industries including trucking, security, oil and natural gas rigging, hotel management, and food preparation and services.  

The requested funding level for VWIP for FY 2008 is $7,351,000.  We plan to serve 3,835 veterans through twelve competitively selected grantees. We estimate that this will result in 2,655 veterans entering employment for an entered employment rate of 69%, with a 90-day retention rate of 83% and a 180-day retention rate of 71%.   

As we testified at an earlier hearing, VETS intends to include, as part of the workforce investment activities funded by Veterans’ Workforce Investment Program funds for Program Year 2008, the identification of barriers to licensure and certification for transitioning servicemembers, and we encourage potential grantees to apply for competitively awarded grants to address this issue.

Additional Actions Taken by VETS

VETS has initiated a series of actions to provide enhanced services to veterans through DOL’s Recovery and Employment Assistance Lifelines (REALifelines) Advisor1, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and an expansion of the TAP Employment Workshops.  VETS developed and implemented REALifelines, a program that provides person-to-person employment assistance for those returning veterans from the Global War on Terror who are wounded or injured.  

Additionally, VETS has improved the quality of services to veterans and reservists under the USERRA and Veterans’ Preference through improved investigator training; expanded veteran and employer outreach efforts; publication of new, easy to understand, common sense USERRA regulations; and through improved quality control by establishing senior investigators at the regional offices.  

Finally, VETS has increased its capacity to provide the TAP Employment Workshops to 170,000 participants through the expansion of workshops at overseas locations and restructuring of the TAP Employment Workshops to emphasize the critical areas of resume preparation, interviewing techniques, and emphasis of the services available at the One-Stop Career Centers.

The Subcommittee’s hearing invitation letter posed several questions. Our response to those questions is attached as Attachment 2.

As always, we stand ready to work with you and your staff.  That concludes my statement and I would be happy to answer any questions.


1 REALifelines helps wounded and injured service members and veterans access valuable online resources and contact information for one-on-one employment assistance to help them transition into the civilian workforce. 

Attachment 1
 VETS’ PERFORMANCE MEASURES   

Public Labor Exchange Outcome Measures

  • Entered Employment Rate – All Veterans
  • Employment Retention Rate – All Veterans
  • Entered Employment Rate – Disabled Veterans 
  • Employment Retention Rate – Disabled Veterans

Grant Based Outcome Measures 

DVOP Performance Elements

  • All Veterans
  1. Entered Employment Rate Following Staff-Assisted Services
  2. Employment Retention Rate
  • Disabled Veterans
  1. Entered Employment Rate Following Staff-Assisted Services
  2. Employment Retention Rate

LVER Performance Elements

  •   All Veterans
  1. Entered Employment Rate Following Staff-Assisted Services
  2. Employment Retention Rate
  • Recently Separated Veterans
  1. Entered Employment Rate Following Staff-Assisted Services
  2. Employment Retention Rate

Attachment 2
RESPONSES TO THE SUBCOMMITTEE’S QUESTIONS

  • How does your agency ensure proper implementation of the DVOP/LVER programs?

Response: The JVA required that DOL establish a comprehensive performance accountability system. This has been established with the following components:

  1. Five year state plan with annual modifications: This plan, devised by each state and reviewed and approved by the DOL, established targets for entered employment and retained employment for all veterans and disabled veterans.
  2. Quarterly reporting by the states: Both a Managers Report from each One-Stop Career Center and a Technical Report at the state level is submitted. In addition, each state reports through the Labor Employment Reporting System their performance in entered employment and retained employment.
  3. State assessment tool: The states provide an assessment of 50% of their One-Stop Career Centers on an annual basis. The DOL state director then conducts a validation of 20% of those submissions.
  • Have any states lost their funding for failing to meet their obligations? Under what circumstances would a state lose its funding?

Response: States have not lost their Jobs for Veterans State Grants as a result of failing to meet performance goals. VETS believes that it employs the tools necessary to achieve the desired results. These tools include:

  1. Placing a temporary hold on quarterly allocations motivates non-reporting states to take steps to ensure timely reporting.  
  2. When a state is identified as a high-risk grantee, VETS' field staff provides technical assistance in the form of coaching, collaboration and encouraging state-to-state networking to help the state remedy any deficiencies. 
  3. We have also found that one of the best incentives is disclosure.  Publicizing performance improvements by posting the results states have attained provides an incentive to sustained performance as well as a competitive challenge to other States to bring up their levels of performance. 
  4. Corrective Action Plans are employed as necessary to address performance and other deficiencies within a state.  By accompanying Corrective Action Plans with the delivery of technical assistance, VETS assures that state grantees are given every opportunity to succeed and that employment services for veterans are maintained at the highest possible level.
  • Are part-timer DVOP/LVER meeting the needs of rural and urban area veterans?

Response: Many rural areas have a half- or full-time DVOP specialist or LVER staff person who provides services to their local veterans.  In those instances where the state determines there are not enough veteran clients to justify a part time DVOP specialist or LVER staff person, priority services are provided to veterans by Wagner-Peyser or other One-Stop Career Center staff.

Many One-Stop services are available to veterans via the internet.  The CareerOneStop portal (www.CareerOneStop.org ) provides an array of services electronically, including:

  • America’s Service Locator (www.servicelocator.org ) provides local office information on more than 22,000 local locations, including 3,500 One Stop Career Centers; 
  • America’s Career InfoNet (www.acinet.org ) provides information on occupations, training required for those occupations, and financial assistance available; and 
  • Career Voyages (www.CareerVoyages.gov ), a career information tool providing in depth information on high growth occupations. 

Many states have utilized Workforce Investment Act and Wagner-Peyser funds to supplement these nationally-funded electronic tools. 

Veterans and transitioning military personnel can call 1-877-US-2JOBS or TTY:  1-877-899-5627 toll-free to locate the nearest One-Stop Career Center.  

Many One-Stop Career Centers provide services over the telephone. 

  • How does your agency track its performance measures?

Response: VETS tracks the performance measures described through the use of the Department of Labor’s Labor Exchange Reporting System. This is a reporting system for those programs administered under the Wagner-Peyser Act and the JVSG.  State agencies report the employment outcomes and services provided to job seekers. 

  • Can you provide the Subcommittee a status of actions taken, in addition to those mentioned in GAO Report 07-594?

Response:  VETS has initiated a series of actions to provide enhanced services to veterans.

  1. Initiated REALifelines, a program that provides person-to-person employment assistance for those returning veterans from the Global War on Terror who are wounded or injured. 
  2. Increased capacity to provide the Transition Assistance Program Employment Workshops to 170,000 participants, expanded workshops at overseas locations, and restructured the TAP Employment Workshops to emphasize the critical areas of resume preparation, interviewing techniques, and emphasis of the services available at the One-Stop Career Centers.
  3. Established, in conjunction with VA, three working groups under the MOA.  The goal of each work group is to improve the quality of employment services and suitable job placements for veterans with disabilities enrolled in the VR&E program.  Each work group has an established list of roles and responsibilities directing their efforts
  4. Improved quality of services to veterans and Reservists under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) and Veteran’s Preference through more and better investigator training, expanded veteran and employer outreach efforts, publication of new, easy to understand, common sense USERRA regulations, and improved quality control through establishing senior investigators at the regional offices.