The Department of Homeland Security disagreed with the Government Accountability Office’s recommendation that performance goals and measures be established for the Coast Guard’s Spouse Employment Assistance Program, arguing that USCG doesn’t have the resources to justify keeping such tabs on a program that is not required.
Based on a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2018, GAO reviewed how performance goals could boost programs that help service members — about 250,000 per year, across all services — make the sometimes difficult transition to the civilian workforce, along with career help for their dependents. Across 11 federal agencies, 45 programs exist to help service members facilitate civilian employment.
The new GAO report analyzes “the extent to which programs provided similar services to similar populations and how agencies coordinate to manage any overlap and fragmentation” and “agency efforts to assess program effectiveness.”
In its audit conducted from February 2019 to July 2020, GAO found that “agencies varied in the extent to which they assessed the effectiveness of their programs,” with eight of the 45 programs reporting that they had no goals to define program achievements.
“Also, while the majority of programs reported having either tracked outcomes or conducted recent evaluations, nine of 45 programs reported taking neither step,” the report said. “According to agency officials, these programs had not assessed outcomes for various reasons, such as that the program was relatively small, not statutorily required to set performance goals, or lacked a data collection system to track outcomes. However, by establishing a system to define goals and assess outcomes — leading practices for monitoring program performance — agencies are better able to demonstrate whether programs are achieving their intended results and ensure resources are being appropriately targeted to provide career assistance to military families.”
At DHS, three programs serve Coast Guard members, four assist veterans, three help spouses and two help dependents. The report noted that the Coast Guard Spouse Employment Assistance Program is not statutorily required to have the program, and “therefore, it does not track associated data or outcomes with services provided.” For the Coast Guard Transition Assistance Program, DHS “is currently developing performance goals per a prior GAO recommendation.”
Other agencies had tracking performance issues for civilian transition programs. With the Defense Department’s Military OneSource Spouse Career Center and Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program, “outcome data are self-reported by recipients and difficult to track.” With Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) program, “the sites that implement the program all do so differently and have different performance goals, which VA does not track.” As far as VA’s VetSuccess on Campus program, “officials face difficulties tracking outcomes because this is a one-time service and recipients are not tracked or case managed upon completion of the service.” And with the VA Educational and Vocational Counseling (or Chapter 36) program, “officials face difficulties tracking outcomes because this is a one-time service and recipients are not tracked or case managed upon completion of the service.”
GAO recommended that VA “incorporate key elements of a performance assessment system, such as establishing performance goals and taking steps to assess outcomes” for the Educational and Vocational Counseling, Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership, and VetSuccess on Campus programs. GAO recommended that the Department of Education develop performance goals for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant program, and said the commandant of the Coast Guard should develop formal performance goals and measures for the Spouse Employment Assistance Program.
VA concurred with GAO’s recommendations, while the Department of Education said it would establish a goal for its program by the end of the summer.
In its response to GAO, DHS said that the Coast Guard “recognizes the value of supporting servicemembers and their dependents that are transitioning to civilian employment,” and USCG “remains committed to providing employment assistance services to eligible spouses to the maximum extent possible within the Service’s current resource limitations.”
Detailing why the department doesn’t concur with GAO’s recommendation, DHS said the Coast Guard “cannot justify creating performance goals or metrics for a program that is not required, especially given increasingly scarce and limited personnel and budgetary resources available for meeting primary mission needs.”
“The Coast Guard, however, will continue to provide employment assistance services to eligible spouses to the maximum extent possible within its current resources limitations,” DHS added. “We request that GAO consider this recommendation closed.”