Witness Testimony of Keith Pedigo, Veterans Benefits Administration, Associate Deputy Under Secretary for Policy and Program Management, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Good afternoon Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, and members of the Subcommittee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) strategy for implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill (chapter 33 of title 38, United States Code). Accompanying me today is Mr. Keith Wilson, Director, Education Service. My testimony will highlight the staffing and information technology solutions being pursued by VA. I will also discuss outreach efforts related to this new education benefit.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill program will provide veterans, servicemembers, and members of the National Guard and Selected Reserve with educational assistance, generally in the form of tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance, and a books and supplies stipend, to assist them in reaching their educational or vocational goals. The Post-9/11 GI Bill program will also assist in the readjustment to civilian life, support the armed services recruitment and retention efforts, and enhance the Nation’s competitiveness through the development of a more highly educated and productive workforce.
Chapter 33 Implementation Strategy
Our strategy to implement the Post-9/11 GI Bill relies on contractor support to build upon and accelerate what we had developed as our longer term strategy to employ rules-based, industry standard, technologies in the delivery of education benefits. Many of our education programs contain eligibility rules and benefit determinations that would work well with rules-based technology that requires minimal human intervention. The goal of minimizing human intervention through the electronic processing of applications and enrollment information was outlined in the President’s FY 2009 Budget Submission. It is important to understand that the contractor will not have full responsibility over the administration of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Instead, the contractor will be responsible for development of the information technology (IT) solution, and general administrative or data entry functions. Claims that are rejected by the automated process and require a manual eligibility determination will remain the responsibility of trained VA personnel. The contractor’s mission is to support VA in its implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill by developing a secure solution so that VA can meet the statutory requirements of the new educational assistance program.
We plan to award a contract for this support in the very near future. The contractor will be accountable for providing timely and accurate education claims processing by completing original claims within 10 days, supplemental claims within 7 days, and achieving a 98 percent accuracy rate. The technological solution and services provided will be under the close direction and oversight of Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) employees. VA’s solicitation for a contractor has established June 1, 2009, as the deadline for the contractor to demonstrate functionality of the IT solution.
Additionally, since the enactment of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Education Service has been working with system developers from the VA Office of Information and Technology, as well as our Office of Business Process Integration, to enhance key existing VA IT systems. For example, VA-ONCE, an application that allows school certifying officials to transmit enrollment data electronically to VA, is being modified to accommodate the reporting requirements of the new program. Further, Education Service is working closely with elements within the Department of Defense, including the Defense Manpower Data Center, to establish data requirements and procedures for implementation of the transferability provisions of the Post-9/11 GI Bill program.
Our goal is to transition servicemembers and veterans into the new Post-9/11 GI Bill with no disruption in the payment of education benefits in accordance with the August 1, 2009, effective date for the new program.
Based on the implementation strategies being pursued, VA does not anticipate the loss of federal employment for any present employees associated with VA’s Education programs. Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill will result in tuition and fee payments being made directly to educational institutions, some current claims processing resources will be shifted to increased compliance and oversight responsibilities.
VA employees will continue to staff and operate our nationwide customer call center in Muskogee. VA employees will also continue to respond to all online inquiries received through the VA Web site, including Post-9/11 GI Bill inquiries.
The provisions of the Post-9/11 GI Bill require VA to develop rules and regulations to administer the new program. Education Service is actively engaged in the process of developing the required regulations, and we anticipate publishing the program’s final regulations in the Federal Register by May 2009.
The VA’s GI Bill Web site was updated to include information regarding the Post-9/11 GI Bill within hours of the law’s enactment. To date, over 3,500 individuals have signed up to receive automatically generated e-mails from VA whenever information about the Post-9/11 GI Bill is updated on the Web site, and over a quarter million have viewed the Post-9/11 GI Bill “frequently asked questions.” In addition to web-based outreach, Education Service is preparing posters, pamphlets and direct mailings to veterans, servicemembers, and college and university executives. In late 2008, VA will launch a multimedia advertising campaign in an effort to reach individuals who may have dropped from our direct mailing rolls. These are individuals who have left the military and have not used VA benefits or have relocated since last using VA benefits.
Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or any of the other members of the Subcommittee may have.
Click on the link for the VA Slide Presentation
[TEXT VERSION OF VA SLIDE PRESENTATION]
Chapter 33 Implementation Overview
Presented to the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity
- The strategy to implement chapter 33 builds upon and accelerates the pre-existing strategy to employ rules based technology for eligibility determinations and claims processing.
- Vendor support will be utilized to ensure that the legislatively mandated August 1, 2009 deadline is met.
- Precise strategy dependent on winning vendor’s solution.
- VA employees will continue to process other education benefits and will have a role in chapter 33 processing.
- No VA staff will lose Federal employment as a result of implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
- VBA has a long-standing history of managing change without negatively impacting employees.
- VA anticipates shifting some resources from claims processing to increased oversight functions.
- Claims decisions will continue to be made by VA staff.
- Rules engine criteria defined and controlled by VA will automatically adjudicate the majority of claims received.
- “Rejected” claims adjudicated individually by VA.
|8/29/08||VA released request for proposal to vendors.|
|9/15/08||Deadline for vendor responses to VA’s request for proposal.|
|9/16/08||VA proposal evaluation team begins initial review of vendor written proposals.|
|9/22-9/23/08||Vendors present oral presentations to VA proposal evaluation team.|
|9/26/08 (tent)||Chapter 33 contract formally awarded to selected vendor.|
|Within 10 days of contract award||Vendor submits Draft Project Management Plan to VA.|
|10/31/2008||Vendor submits Business Requirements and Process Flows to VA.|
|3/1/2009||Vendor demonstrates solution capabilities to VA. User testing begins.|
|5/1/2009||Solution must be available to begin making eligibility and entitlement decisions.|
|6/1/2009||Solution must be available to make full benefits awards, payments, accounting, and all other required functionalities.|
|No later than 8/1/2009||Solution must be certified and fully operational.|
Vendor Performance Metrics
Process original claims in 10 days or less.
Process supplemental claims in 7 days or less.
Achieve at least 98% accuracy.
Solution shall meet all requirements in all objectives and address interrelations.
Consult with VA subject-matter experts to develop business requirements and process flows.
Data transmissions between solution and VA must use XML standards and be bi-directional.
NLT 3/1/2009 VA will determine if the solution meets Post-9/11 GI Bill requirements.
Meet requirements according to Section E authorities including adhering to finance standards and regs, adhering to moderate system sensitivity categorization, ensure privacy is maintained, and meet all testing capabilities.
Support both paper and electronic submission of claims and check processing, and provide on-line access to VA and stakeholders.
Demonstrate capability to manage and control change. Ensure services delivered employ technology that is effective and scalable.
Establish and maintain a support capability that adheres to industry best practices.
Adhere to the following performance requirements: 10 days or less to complete original claims, 7 days or less to complete supplemental claims, 98% administrative and payment accuracy rate.
RFP Mandatory Tasks
Detailed Project Management Plan.
Develop business requirements and detailed process flows.
Provide a secure solution in accordance with the objectives.
Host the Post-9/11 GI Bill solution in a secure facility.
Demonstrate an acceptable process that clearly articulates inputs and outputs of solution.
Work with federal oversight entities and VA’s OCIS staff to remediate any security issues identified in reviews.
Propose enhancements that improve efficiency and effectives of secure solution and meet evolving needs of VA.
Propose industry standard best practices for training and other adoption requirements.
Upon termination of the contract, the vendor shall comply with the Continuity of Services provisions in FAR 52.237-3.
Control authorization of benefits and payments through established rules for the system and human intervention when automatic processing is not possible
Provide oversight of the work being accomplished through the vendor’s secure solution
Ensure that performance metrics are being met