Witness Testimony of The Honorable Keith Kelly, Assistant Secretary, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, U.S. Department of Labor
Good Morning Chairman Flores, Ranking Member Takano, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today to discuss the Department of Labor’s (DOL or Department) views on pending legislation. I commend you all for your tireless efforts to ensure that America fulfills its obligations to our returning servicemembers, veterans, and their families.
President Obama, Acting Secretary of Labor Seth Harris and I are committed to serving these brave men and women as well as they have served us by ensuring they have the opportunities, training and support they deserve to succeed in the civilian workforce. The Department will continue to work with the Members of the Subcommittee to provide our returning servicemembers, veterans, and their families with the critical resources and expertise needed to assist and prepare them to obtain meaningful careers, maximize their employment opportunities, and protect their employment rights.
While this hearing is focused on numerous bills before the Subcommittee, I will limit my remarks to those pieces of legislation that have a direct impact on DOL, including the following: H.R. 562, the “VRAP Extension Act of 2013,” H.R. 631, the “Servicemembers Choice in Transition Act of 2013,” H.R. 1305, a bill to provide clarification regarding eligibility for services under the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP), and H.R. 1316, the “Directors of Veterans’ Employment and Training Accountability Act.” DOL respectfully defers to the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans’ Affairs (VA) on the remaining pieces of legislation.
H.R. 562 – VRAP Extension Act of 2013
The first piece of legislation that I will address is H.R. 562, the VRAP Extension Act of 2013. H.R. 562 would amend Section 211 of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 (VOW Act) to extend the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) for an additional three months from March 31, 2014 to June 30, 2014. In addition, the bill would require the VA, in collaboration with DOL, to submit an interim report on the program, including the employment status of program participants, within 30 days of the bill’s enactment. The Department supports the three month extension of VRAP, but we have concerns about the new requirement for an interim report, which I will discuss in more detail.
The Department is committed to the success of VRAP, an important program that provides retraining assistance to unemployed veterans aged 35 to 60 to pursue an associate degree or certificate in a high-demand occupation. The Department fully supports the intent of Section 211 and has been working diligently with the VA to carry out the VRAP provisions since the VOW Act was enacted in November of 2011.
DOL has assisted in the administration of VRAP, by, among other things, conducting outreach to veterans, developing guidance for the workforce system, identifying high-demand occupations, and verifying applicants’ initial eligibility based on age, employment status, and previous participation in other job training programs. In addition, the Department works to support veterans before, during, and following their participation in VRAP with employment services, such as resume development, job referrals, and case management through the national network of approximately 2,700 American Job Centers, and a suite of online tools.
DOL’s responsibilities under VRAP have required, among other things, modifications to current reporting systems, approval of new data collections, and development of processes and data management tools to ensure states and local areas can contact VRAP participants as they exit the program, offer employment services, and track their employment outcomes. Since the public workforce system is designed to be decentralized and locally-driven, these ongoing responsibilities present unique administrative challenges for the Department and the workforce system as a whole.
Initial implementation costs during the first year of VRAP were met by redirecting Departmental funds that had been appropriated for research and demonstration projects. These implementation costs included providing modest grants to states to help with VOW Act costs, including VRAP reporting, and contractor support to assist with ongoing technical assistance to states’ outreach to VRAP participants, IT needs, and performance reporting requirements. While DOL will continue to fulfill the requirement under the VOW Act to contact veterans following their participation in VRAP to offer them employment services, and veterans will continue to receive priority of service in the public workforce system, the level for employment services available for VRAP participants may be affected by the availability of Workforce Investment Act and Wagner-Peyser Act funds to provide such services through American Job Centers.
In addition, the Department has serious concerns with the requirement that the VA submit an interim report within 30 days after enactment that will include program outcomes. Employment outcomes will not be available 30 days after enactment because of the 11-month lag time between when a veteran receives employment services and when data on their employment outcomes can be sufficiently tracked. Therefore, the Department supports the three month extension of VRAP, but recommends limiting any interim report to administrative data and defers to VA on the best data elements and timeframe for submission of the interim report.
H.R. 631 – Servicemembers’ Choice in Transition Act of 2013
The Transition Assistance Program (TAP) under Section 1144 of Title 10 (10 U.S.C. 1144) is an interagency effort between DOL, DOD, VA, Department of Homeland Security, and other Federal agencies aimed at providing separating servicemembers and their spouses with the training and support they need to successfully transition to the civilian workforce. As part of TAP, DOL utilizes its extensive expertise in employment services to provide a comprehensive three-day employment workshop at U.S. military installations around the world.
H.R. 631, the “Servicemembers’ Choice in Transition Act of 2013,” would amend TAP to require it to consist of at least five days of instruction as follows: (1) at least one day of service-specific pre-separation training; (2) up to one day for instruction in preparation for employment, preparation for education or career or technical training, preparation for entrepreneurship, or other options determined by the Secretary of the military department concerned; (3) at least two days of in-depth instruction of the participant’s choice in any of the aforementioned subjects; and (4) up to one day of training in VA benefits provided and in other subjects determined by the Secretary of the military department concerned.
The Department has serious concerns about H.R. 631 because we believe it would seriously impede DOL’s efforts to fulfill our statutory obligations under the VOW Act and provide separating servicemembers with the training and support they need to successfully transition to the civilian workforce. H.R. 631 would undermine the implementation currently underway of the redesigned DOL employment workshop and the new Transition GPS (Goals, Plans, Success) training and delivery model that DOD, VA, DOL and other agencies have been working together to execute.
Section 1144 of Title 10 requires the Secretary of Labor to “establish and maintain a program to furnish counseling, assistance in identifying employment and training opportunities, help in obtaining employment and training and other related information and services to members of the armed forces ….” Congress, through the VOW Act and other legislation, also mandated that DOL include certain elements in the TAP employment workshop. The VOW Act further enhanced TAP by requiring mandatory participation for all transitioning servicemembers and requiring contractor facilitation of the employment workshop to ensure a standardized curriculum. As the VOW Act intended, servicemembers benefit from taking the DOL employment workshop regardless of their immediate plans upon leaving military service. Even servicemembers who intend to enroll in school or start a business will need the skills that are provided during the DOL employment workshop, such as translating their military skills and building a résumé of their accomplishments.
Moreover, as the Members of the Subcommittee know, the Department just completed a major effort aimed at redesigning the employment workshop curriculum to align it with emerging best practices in career development and to make it more engaging and relevant in light of the unique challenges facing transitioning servicemembers. The redesign of the employment workshop was an extensive process that evolved over several years involving many federal agencies, pilot programs and curriculum reviews. DOL wanted to ensure it was providing the best possible product.
After extensive review and consultation with experts on training, education and the military services, DOL determined that the optimal delivery was a three-day format. This decision was based on the amount of time it would take to properly deliver all the material required under Section 1144 of Title 10 and to meet the learning objectives and ensure an effective and efficient program to prepare our servicemembers. Over the past few months, the Department completed the transfer to contract facilitation and full implementation of the new employment workshop curriculum at all military installations worldwide. I am happy to report that the new curriculum has been well received as demonstrated by preliminary feedback from over 2,000 attendees during January and February of this year, who gave the employment workshop an overall rating of 4.4 on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest rating. While the data strongly suggests that the Department’s revised employment workshop is headed in the right direction, H.R. 631 would significantly undermine these efforts.
Under H.R. 631, the Department would have to completely redesign the new curriculum in structure, content, and delivery and in consultation with numerous other agencies. Further, the legislation would be very difficult to administer and would significantly increase program costs. Moreover, the Department would likely have to re-compete and renegotiate the facilitation contract. The Department also has serious concerns about the feasibility of implementing all of these proposed changes in only six months.
Most importantly, however, the overall impact of this legislation would negatively affect transitioning servicemembers. These men and women deserve the best possible services we can provide, and this bill would undermine such efforts. The Department looks forward to working with the Subcommittee to ensure that our transitioning servicemembers have the resources and training they need to successfully transition to the civilian workforce.
H.R. 1305 – To Provide Clarification Regarding Eligibility for Services under the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP)
DOL fully supports this legislation, which would expand eligibility for the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP) to include veterans participating in the Department of Housing and Urban Development/Department of Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, while continuing our commitment to the Administration’s goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.
H.R.1305 also expands HVRP eligibility to include incarcerated veterans. As this subcommittee is aware, the HVRP currently serves incarcerated veterans through Incarcerated Veterans Transition Program (IVTP) demonstration project grants. The IVTP grants are designed to support incarcerated veterans “at risk” of homelessness by providing referral and career counseling services, job training, placement assistance and other benefits. Eligible IVTP participants include veterans who have been incarcerated for at least one (1) day and are within eighteen (18) months prior to release, or within six (6) months after release from a correctional institution or facility.
Data from the IVTP demonstration program in Program Years 2010 and 2011 shows that grantees have made a remarkable performance improvement in placement rates (up 9.5%) and employment retention rates (up 17%), while decreasing their cost per participant (down 20%) and cost per placement (down 32%). DOL supports this bill as currently drafted. Both changes to the HVRP -- the inclusion of incarcerated veterans beyond the current demonstration projects and veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program -- will allow the Department to be responsive to the service needs of these populations.
H.R. 1316 – Directors of Veterans’ Employment and Training Accountability Act
H.R. 1316 would amend Section 4103 of Title 38 and legislatively prescribe the duties of our state Directors for Veterans’ Employment and Training, commonly known as “DVETs.” The Department appreciates the intent of this legislation; however, DOL has serious concerns with this bill, as it: (1) unduly prescribes the duties of our DVETs and removes much of the managerial flexibility possessed by the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans’ Employment and Training; and (2) would be administratively difficult to implement.
Many parts of the bill are duties that DVETs already perform, which are assessed as part of their annual performance appraisal and are subject to other managerial oversight by the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans’ Employment and Training. For example, our DVETs have performance standards that include the responsibilities noted in Sections 1(b)(3) – (5), and (8) – (14) of this bill. In addition, Section 1(b)(9) is essentially repeated in Section 1(b)(14).
As for the performance monitoring portions of the bill in Sections 1(b)(1) and (2), I would note that, per Section 4107 of Title 38, DOL already has a statutory mandate to monitor the performance of state employment and training programs and to report on such performance to the Congressional Committees on Veterans Affairs.
Other parts of H.R. 1316 would be problematic to implement. For example, Sections 1(b)(6)-(7) of the bill would require our DVETs to perform duties that are already being performed by DOL’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). Section 1(b)(7) is especially troubling because it would require our DVETs to investigate alleged violations of state veterans’ preference laws, but even if a DVET investigation found a substantiated case, DOL would lack the legal authority to take any remedial actions.
Americans know of the tremendous sacrifices made by our servicemembers and their families. We at the Department of Labor know this too, and that is why we are working diligently to provide them with the best possible services, protections and programs our Nation has to offer.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Takano, and Members of the Subcommittee – this concludes my statement. Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today on these bills. I would be pleased to answer any questions you may have.