Veterans' training program works to get performance measures right

A Labor Department job training program for veterans needs more specific performance measures in order for managers to better track its performance, according to a recent report from the General Accounting Office. GAO praised the Labor Department's Veterans' Employment and Training Service program (VETS) for developing new performance measures that are more focused on results, instead of on the number of services it provides. However, VETS has yet to clearly define which groups of veterans it intends to target, and continues to use overly broad and even irrelevant performance measures, according to the report, "Veterans' Employment and Training Service: Proposed Performance Measurement System Improved, But Further Changes Needed" (GAO-01-580). "VETS continues to send a mixed message to states about what services to provide and to whom," said the report. The VETS program helps provide job training for veterans and ensures they get priority treatment when applying for government jobs. According to GAO, current performance measures focus on process-oriented factors--such as the number of veterans placed in training and the number of veterans who receive counseling-that do not help the agency gauge the success of the VETS program. VETS' proposed performance measures, which are slated for implementation this year, are more focused on program results. For example, one new measure tracks retention rates of veterans six months into their jobs. Despite the improvement of VETS' performance measures, GAO said the criteria for tracking the success of job and training programs for veterans need to be more focused. "Two of the proposed measures-the entered employment rate [of veterans] and the employment rate following staff-assisted services-may provide nearly identical results, and neither helps VETS to monitor whether more intensive services are being provided to veterans or whether these services are successful," said the report. The report also criticized VETS for including the number of federal contractor jobs listed with local employment offices as a performance measure. According to GAO, tracking this statistic is not the responsibility of VETS staff and does not help the agency determine whether or not programs are serving veterans. GAO recommended eliminating the measure related to federal contractor jobs and urged VETS to revise criteria related to staff-assisted services by evaluating only those services that require the most time and energy from employees. VETS generally agreed with GAO's recommendations, acknowledging that its current strategic plan sends states a mixed message about which groups of veterans its staff should target for special attention. However, VETS disagreed with GAO's recommendation to evaluate only certain staff-assisted services, saying that many services for veterans require extensive staff time. VETS also declined to eliminate the measure related to federal contractor jobs, citing an increased emphasis on government outsourcing.
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