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
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to share with you my vision for VBA as we move into the 21st Century.
March 4, 1789, the day the U.S. Constitution took effect, was also the day our brand new Federal government passed its first law to help veterans. Thus began a two century long commitment by the American people to help those who wore our nation’s uniform to defend the ideals embodied in the Constitution. Defending these ideals came with a very dear price: more than 41 million of America’s sons and daughters served the cause of freedom, one million of whom died for that cause. In return, America has provided help to these citizen-soldiers in making the sometimes difficult transition back to civilian life.
Each wartime era brought an ever changing society, and consequently, ever evolving programs to help veterans. The agencies created to provide this help - the Bureau of Pensions, the Bureau of War Risk Insurance, the Veterans Bureau, and the other forerunners of today’s VA - had to change and adapt to these changing circumstances.
Today, we in the Veterans Benefits Administration, the heirs to this tremendous legacy, find ourselves in a rapidly changing world, one which can be stressful and confusing, but also one which provides many opportunities. We have no choice but to do the things that our predecessors had to do - learn, and grow, and change.
As an organization, we’ve sometimes lost our focus and not kept pace with our evolving environment. As a result, we’ve often frustrated veterans with our efforts and have raised serious doubts about our abilities with many of our key stakeholders, including the Congress and veterans service organizations.
This can, and will, change. Just as our agency and its predecessors helped veterans in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, so too will VBA do the things necessary to ensure that veterans are well served in the 21st century.
I am confident of this for two reasons. First, I believe that we have one of the noblest missions in government. Not only do we help the people who have risked their lives "to provide for the common defence", but we do so when they are dealing with life’s major events - the death of a loved one, disabilities, poverty and homelessness, buying a home, going to college. We’ve been entrusted by our fellow citizens to deliver on our nation’s commitment to veterans - this is our mission and I know that VBA employees will do everything in their power to achieve this goal.
Second, we are blessed with one of the finest and most dedicated workforces in government. VBA employees care deeply about their mission and often go to extraordinary lengths to help veterans and their families. Just as importantly, every day, they do the routine tasks which make a difference in the lives of the people who come to VA for help.
The "Roadmap to Excellence - Planning the Journey", a draft of which was provided to your office, is a plan for changing VBA to regain our focus and to accomplish our mission. While it is based on the input of many VBA employees as well as our key stakeholders, it is the beginning of a dynamic process. Ergo, it is incomplete in a number of areas and likely to change in others as we receive and analyze more information on our key business processes. Nonetheless, it represents some important changes to our organizational structure, workflow, job designs, and our relationships with veterans, their representatives and our partners in the benefits delivery process.
Working together, we can accomplish everything that needs to be done to bring about this transformation.
VBA was built from the end of the first World War to the post-Korean War era. This began with the consolidation in the 1920s of most federal programs dealing with veterans' issues into a single agency, through the creation of a "product line" organization -- the Department of Veterans Benefits -- in 1953. Subsequently, operations of this Department were consolidated into 58 regional offices.
As the predecessor agencies of today’s VBA were being built, the organizational and administrative practices that were common to both businesses and government at that time were adopted, including:
This model served our nation well for many years and allowed VBA to be a very productive organization which generally met its customers' needs and expectations.
During the 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s, this dynamic began to change. Millions of new Vietnam Era veterans added to the cohort; a number of controversial claims issues involving agent orange exposure, radiation exposure, claims from former prisoners of war and post-traumatic stress disorders arose to challenge the status quo; and, there were successful court challenges to long-standing claims practices and a deterioration of the relationship between veterans and VA. These factors helped to bring about a call for widespread changes to VA. The most significant of these changes were the elevation of the agency to Cabinet level status and the creation of the Court of Veterans Appeals to review claims decisions which heretofore had been exempt from judicial review. More importantly, they signaled the start of a change process for all of VA and in VBA's case, have brought into question some of its most important policies and practices. Recent studies completed by the Veterans Claims Adjudication Commission (VCAC) and the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) have reinforced the need to reexamine VBA’s business processes and plans.
During my pre and post-confirmation meetings with various stakeholder representatives from throughout the veterans support community, I was provided with candid and knowledgeable feedback regarding the issues and opportunities facing VBA. That feedback, coupled with the VCAC, NAPA and other relevant reports, created an environmental scan. This scan represents a the sense of those with whom we work most closely and support most directly, regarding the issues of greatest concern for the future of veterans benefits delivery. The most frequently identified issues in the environmental scan are:
These issues were analyzed as part of the planning process in the development of this Roadmap to Excellence.
Shortly after my confirmation, I brought together a group of senior VBA managers for a week-long planning workshop in Baltimore. The workshop was focused on assessing the issues and opportunities facing VBA today, such as those identified in the environmental scan above, and agreeing on VBA’s mission, vision, values and goals for the long-term, and its critically important next steps. The results of the Baltimore planning workshop were published in late December and are highlighted below.
VBA’s Goal and Objectives
Achieving our vision of the future for veterans benefits is dependent on accomplishing multiple change activities concurrently. Based on an assessment of VBA’s current operations, management and planning efforts, as well as the feedback received from various stakeholder and oversight entities, we can group those change activities into the following twelve categories. They are:
* Culture * Information Technology
* Program Evaluations * Quality of Claims
* Rules and Regulations * Human Resources
* Data Systems * Succession Planning
* Resources * Structure
* Training * Strategic Planning
Within each category, we have defined a series of objectives to be achieved by 2001. These form the basis for our 2001 vision and are represented below:
VBA’s Culture in 2001
VBA will be customer focused and driven. VBA’s employees and stakeholders will share and respect our culture and history -- our mission and history are a very important part of our culture. We will become an organization where learning is fostered and modeled. We will listen, adjust and improve on the basis of learning. Our work processes will be owned and shaped by our workforce. Teams and teamwork will be our structure and manner of operation. Our core values will be reflected in our day-to-day behavior. We will "walk the talk." Innovation will be encouraged and recognized, and our successes will be celebrated. Collaboration will be a hallmark of VBA work management. VBA leaders and employees are actively working to change our culture and model the change we seek in others.
Program Evaluations in 2001
VBA program evaluations will affirm public policy goals and determine the degree to which we are achieving our goals. We will have initiated program evaluations in all business lines and, based on the outcomes of these evaluations, we will propose programmatic or legislative changes where appropriate. In conjunction with program evaluations, we will conduct a review of all our administrative processes, to include Business Process Reengineering (BPR).
Rules and Regulations in 2001
We will have assessed the degree of revision necessary and have developed a plan to rewrite rules and regulations where indicated and will have initiated the revisions in those publications requiring the most significant attention.
Data Systems in 2001
VBA’s data systems will be reliable, timely, accurate, integrated across the organization, honest and flexible. They will enable the organization to forecast workload and resource demands.
Resources in 2001
VBA will have adequate resources to accomplish its mission and goals. Resources will match requirements. We will use an integrated planning and budget process to forecast and justify needed resources. We will have tied our resource requirements to performance levels.
Training in 2001
Employee skills and competencies will be identified for every decision-making position. Training plans and practices will be consistently prepared and delivered throughout the organization. Skill certification or credentialing will be in place for all decision-making positions. Training will be performance based and connected to measurable outcomes. Training will be delivered using multi-media techniques and will reinforce team behaviors and customer service. Training programs will be aligned with human resource requirements and will consistently deliver required training.
Information Technology in 2001
Our information technologies will support a centralized policy development and a decentralized field office structure. VBA’s information technology structure will be capable of successfully supporting small scale improvements. Our information technologies will be compatible with other administrations, both internal and external to VBA. Our information technology structure will be poised to achieve a major systems overhaul and support the One-VA architecture.
Quality of C&P Claims in 2001
VBA will work closely with VHA and BVA in improving the quality of claims. Our Quality Assurance Programs will be greatly improved. We will use expert systems wherever possible and will use technology to control variances. Claims process quality will be linked to training outcomes and performance will be measured using pre-identified goals and milestones.
Human Resources in 2001
We will have implemented an improved, streamlined human resources organization. VBA will achieve a new level of partnership with labor organizations. We will conduct organizational assessment surveys and will explore a separate VBA personnel system. Our personnel selection process will be aligned to our human resource requirements (e.g., skills, competencies and desired outcomes) and reflect the diversity of the people whom we serve. VBA’s reward and recognition system will be aligned to desired outcomes. We will have completed an evaluation of pay pilots
Succession Planning in 2001
VBA’s core competencies will be identified and a succession plan will be developed and piloted. Managing and promoting diversity will be a core part of our succession plan. Succession planning will integrate human resource issues (e.g., training and rewards). Feedback will be gathered regularly throughout plan development and implementation.
Structure in 2001
VBA’s organizational structure will be agile and will facilitate ease of access by veterans. We will not be bound by geographical limitations in our services to veterans. Authority and responsibility to make decisions will be driven down to the lowest appropriate level. VBA managers will share available resources and reduce redundancies. Field operations will be team-based. VBA’s field organization will be realigned to better reflect our team-based, customer focused and restructured organization. VBA Central Office will facilitate policy development, program integrity, strategic planning, and budget formulation.
Strategic Planning in 2001
VBA will achieve a dynamic strategic planning process that integrates all near and long term planning activities. Strategic planning will be outcome focused, have goals that are measurable, and promote accountability. The plan will be based on the Balanced Scorecard. Quality of life for veterans and program outcomes will drive strategic planning. Strategic planning will incorporate data from a broad array of information systems including surveys of both veterans and employees. Prioritization of resources will be based on data-driven strategic planning activities
These 12 categories and objectives formed the basis for the second round of planning activities that occurred in mid to late January. I convened a series of team meetings in Washington DC which brought together over 50 VBA employees from throughout the agency, along with representatives from other organizations in the Department, various Veterans Service Organizations and VA employee unions. Together, this diverse group reviewed VBA’s mission, vision, values and objectives, and analyzed the issues and opportunities identified and prioritized at the Baltimore workshop.
The group was then divided into nine teams, with each team responsible for analyzing, developing and reporting on near-term actions to address the nine most significant opportunities for improving VBA benefits delivery in the near-term. Those nine opportunity areas are organizational structure, claims processing, BPR, balanced scorecard, communications, training, data, information technology and strategic planning. The nine teams also began the process of developing longer term strategies to lead us toward our year 2001 objectives. The results of those team planning efforts that are reported in the attachments to the "Roadmap to Excellence."