UNDER SECRETARY FOR BENEFITS
VETERANS BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON BENEFITS
COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
March 26, 1998
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to testify today on VBA’s progress in implementing the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). All of us in VBA are committed to the provisions of GPRA because we believe it will result in improvements in the success and outcomes of VA’s veterans benefits programs.
I have organized my testimony into two parts. First, I will discuss our progress to date in implementing an integrated strategic management system, as GPRA requires. Second, I will share with the Subcommittee information we have accumulated to date on the results and outcomes of our programs.
The Government Performance and Results Act requires Federal agencies to develop strategic plans and annual performance plans which contain goals and objectives linked to clear outcomes and results. The Act mandates that Federal agency budgets include performance measures and be linked to clear results for identified customers. I am moving ahead aggressively to implement GPRA in VBA, building on efforts started a few years ago with GPRA pilot projects in the New York Regional Office and the Loan Guaranty Program.
VBA has valued for some time the need to link planning and budget activities into an integrated strategic management process, which includes thoughtful development of strategic and annual performance plans--with clear goals, objectives, strategies, and initiatives--followed by careful implementation planning, monitoring of accomplishments, and feedback to ensure benefits from lessons learned. My proposed Balanced Scorecard is based on this approach of establishing goals and objectives within a corresponding framework to track progress achieved and to establish clear accountability. A Balanced Scorecard is developed using specific outcome measures and is used to monitor the results of improvement activities. The Balanced Scorecard will provide us with a strategic measurement system. The organization will look at the total service delivery picture taken together rather than just productivity, cost, or speed. We will also look at ways VBA can improve performance in these areas by sharing data and resources with other parts of VA to achieve the One-VA vision articulated in the Department’s strategic plan. There is no doubt in my mind that implementing GPRA in this way will result in better benefits and services for veterans and their families, better value for the taxpayer, and greater satisfaction for our VBA employees.
We have made good progress to date in implementing GPRA. We have identified performance measures for each of our six business lines, using a core set of measures focused on improving our business processes. These measures include:
For some of these measures, VBA systems that provide data for performance measurement purposes already exist. For example, VBA has measured timeliness and accuracy for years using established procedures that are part of our current management information systems, although we admit, we have not been doing as good a job as we should have been doing. We are reviewing these systems and will be revising procedures to make sure the data currently available is accurate. For some other measures, we are developing new information systems and other methods to collect performance data because it is not now available. Examples of new data sources include veteran, other customer, and employee surveys, and our Activity-Based Costing project aimed at providing unit cost data.
We have also made progress in beginning to integrate GPRA planning requirements into our annual budget cycle. Our traditional annual budget documents have been converted into what we now call VBA Business Plans. Our 1998 and 1999 VBA Business Plans included both traditional budget and resource information, as well as GPRA planning information. As GPRA intends, our goal in doing this is to ensure VBA’s strategic and performance plans drive budget decisions rather than vice versa. I believe we are still one of only a few Federal agencies that has chosen this approach of preparing one document that fulfills many GPRA requirements, rather than preparing two separate budget and planning documents that must be coordinated and reconciled on a regular basis.
In preparing our 1998 and 1999 VBA Business Plans, we used a framework based on VBA’s six business lines—Compensation, Pension, Educational Assistance, Loan Guaranty, Vocational Rehabilitation and Counseling, and Insurance. This is based on our belief that this is the best way to present and analyze the current array of VBA benefits and services enacted by the Congress to improve the quality of life for veterans and their families. We have eliminated prior chapters in the budget—Veterans Assistance, Information Technology, Support Services, and Executive Direction—because we believe these are support activities and do not require separate treatment. Costs and initiatives for these activities are included in the appropriate business line that primarily benefits from the activity, or are spread across all business lines because the activity benefits each one.
Generally, the format of the business line plans included in the overall VBA Business Plan focuses on goals, objectives, performance measures, and anticipated results. While the traditional budget documents did include some information on performance, it was limited primarily to timeliness and accuracy, and was inconsistent across the business lines. Data on workload is included in the current format, but receives less emphasis than performance measures and anticipated results.
There is still much more to do to meet GPRA requirements. We need to develop impact, or outcome measures for all our programs. Much of our work to date has focused on performance measures related to our business processes only. Through research and further consultation with our stakeholders, we need to identify the intended impact on veterans’ quality of life, and then measure whether our programs are achieving this impact. This is not an easy task and must be handled carefully and sensitively as we discuss each of our benefit programs with our various stakeholders. New systems, surveys, and other data sources will be necessary to provide information to measure veteran impact and outcomes. Examples of some of these new measures include comparison of education achievement levels for veterans and non-veterans, comparison of financial educational assistance available for veterans and non-veterans, comparison of home ownership rates for veterans and non-veterans, Vocational Rehabilitation and Counseling (VR&C) veteran employment rates, and the number of veterans living below the poverty level.
We also need to coordinate and integrate existing and new information systems to provide easy-to-understand reports and data for managers and information to overseers and stakeholders. Additional veteran and other customer surveys are necessary to make sure we can provide customer satisfaction data for all business lines. Program evaluations and policy analyses will be needed to provide additional information when outcome measures do not exist, or when alternative policies need to be studied. Much more work is needed to identify employee skills and competencies useful for measuring development achievement.
Finally, we need to do much more strategic planning to form the foundation for all our operations. We need to work cooperatively with other VA organizations, DOD, and other Federal agencies to obtain better data for computer model-based projections of future workload, and to discuss common expectations for outcomes and results. The establishment of the Office of Actuary with VA will greatly assist us in improving our data analysis and projection capabilities. We can increase VBA performance and improve benefits and services for veterans if we consider critical issues in more detail and focus on developing strategies with initiatives that will achieve the most improvement for the investment. More involvement with our partners--traditional ones such as unions, veterans service organizations, educational institutions, and lenders—is needed to build support and to develop new ideas. Increased contact with other partners, such as state and local governments or various non-profit organizations, will also help us succeed. We also need to develop well thought-out strategies for high profile issues such as handling tobacco claims, processing Gulf War claims, or improving benefits for homeless veterans. Finally, we need to ensure we have an ongoing mechanism to become a true learning organization. We will establish a process whereby we gather information from all sources and incorporate it into future strategic planning discussions.
Current data on VBA results is limited. As I mentioned earlier, we are building our abilities to gather performance measurement data based on our Balanced Scorecard approach. Data currently available on 1997 or 1998 progress is limited, however, because most new VBA systems and methods to provide data on performance are not yet operational. My ability to provide you information today on the current results for our programs is therefore limited by this lack of data. The following briefly summarizes information we do have on VBA’s 1997 and 1998 performance to date for each of the business lines:
The Systematic Technical Accuracy Review (STAR) program was developed by a special work group formed by the Director of the Compensation and Pension Service (C&P) to analyze the C&P national and local quality programs in conjunction with the implementation of Business Process Reengineering (BPR) and GPRA. We are currently revising our (C&P) accuracy measures based on review of core adjudicative work represented by the more complex rating and appellate workload. That review showed our error rate to be 36 percent. Until new procedures are established, we will not have any additional current accuracy results for the Compensation and Pension programs. We will be testing these procedures during 1998 and hope to have a modified program in place by Fiscal Year 1999.
Current information shows timeliness of most Compensation and Pension claims improved from 1994 to 1997, but has slipped recently. For example, original compensation claims at the end of FY 1997 were processed in an average of 133 days, 80 days better than the end of FY 1994. Since October of 1997, however, timeliness for these claims has increased to an average of 150 days. Timeliness for other claims improved similarly from 1994 to 1997, but has slipped as well in the last five months. Much of this increase is attributable to the processing of special claims projects, such as complex Gulf War environmental hazard/undiagnosed illness claims, and tobacco use disability claims; and the number of appeal claims currently pending. The tobacco use claims represent some of our oldest claims, and as they are adjudicated, their age will adversely affect the average time to complete both original disability and reopened disability compensation claims. Training associated with Business Process Reengineering is another factor that impacts claims processing time. While the merging of functions between the Veterans Service and Adjudication Divisions will ultimately improve service to veterans, implementation requires training which temporarily takes staff away from responding to inquiries and processing claims.
One of the most important indicator Loan Guaranty uses is the Foreclosure Avoidance Through Servicing (FATS) ratio. This measures VBA’s success in keeping veterans in their homes. The FATS ratio had ranged from 37 in 1995 to 42 in 1996, but has decreased recently in 1998 due to increased workload in selected regional offices and the initial impact of our Loan Guaranty restructuring initiative.
There is much more information on these performance indicators, especially the methods used to measure the data and the targets for the future. I would be pleased to provide this more detailed information to the Subcommittee at a later date.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I repeat my opening comment that VBA is committed to implementing GPRA. It is not only the law; it will help us meet our mission of providing improved benefits and services to veterans and their families. I would be pleased to answer any questions the Subcommittee may have.