DIRECTOR, EDUCATION SERVICE
VETERANS BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY
November 18, 2008
Good afternoon, Chairwoman Herseth-Sandlin, Ranking Member Boozman, and members of the Subcommittee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) strategy for implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill (new Chapter 33 of title 38, United States Code). Accompanying me today is Mr. Stephen Warren, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Information Technology, and Mr. Jan Frye, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisitions & Materials Management. My testimony will address the short- and long-term strategies in developing information technology (IT) components for implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, as requested by the Subcommittee.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill will provide veterans, servicemembers, and members of the National Guard and Selected Reserve with educational assistance, generally in the form of tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance, and a books and supplies stipend, to assist them in reaching their educational or vocational goals. This program will also assist in their readjustment to civilian life, support the Armed Services’ recruitment and retention efforts, and enhance the Nation’s competitiveness through the development of a more highly educated and productive workforce.
Our short-term strategy to implement the Post-9/11 GI Bill consists of a two-part IT solution, a fiscal payment system that uses VA’s existing Benefits Delivery Network (BDN) to issue payments, and a “Front-End Tool” (FET) for use by Education Service claims examiners to augment the manual processing of the claims for benefits.
We will use internal IT staff to build the needed payment-processing and delivery mechanisms within the fiscal-payment system of BDN for the purpose of making payments. This functionality will allow for entry of all payment types, to include recurring payments (housing allowance), complete accounting ability, audit-trail capability, and some availability of reports that will meet our finance and budgetary requirements.
The Chapter 33 FET will be used to augment the manual process by providing additional automated support that is accessible by processors in each Regional Processing Office (RPO), and VA Central Office. This automated tool will provide functionality that cannot be included in the BDN fiscal-payment solution. Requirements for the FET are being analyzed to determine what current capabilities can be modified or enhanced. The range of functionality that can be provided will be defined by November 26. The FET will be the primary tool to be used by education claims examiners in preparing and processing education awards.
While the BDN solution will generate the information sent to the Department of the Treasury for issuance of the payments, the FET is intended to support calculation of the payment, track the usage of entitlement, and store the claimant’s education award history, as well as providing basic statistical reports.
The implementation of the short-term solution will require approximately 400 additional processors at the RPOs. It is important to remember that this combined IT and staffing approach is a short-term solution that we expect to retire no later than November 2010, when the automated system that will be used for the long term is developed and implemented by our partners at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR).
Our long-term strategy to implement the Post-9/11 GI Bill will rely on support from SPAWAR to develop an end-to-end solution that utilizes rules-based, industry-standard technologies for the delivery of education benefits. The
Chapter 33 program contains eligibility rules for benefit determinations that will work well with rules-based technology, while requiring minimal human intervention. VA is working with SPAWAR on the long-term IT solution, and expects the development of this program to take approximately 18 to 24 months to complete.
The priorities established for IT enhancements for the short-term front-end piece have a relationship to the priorities SPAWAR will follow when developing the long-term solution, such that some of the long-term IT functionality could be used to implement our short-term solution. If SPAWAR can develop long-term functionality that can also be used in the short term and can be deployed within our timeframe prior to August 2009, they will do so. That would save the effort of having to dedicate additional resources to short-term IT investment that will be thrown away when the long-term solution deploys. In both the short term and long term, SPAWAR also is providing IT program management support and technical assistance in managing the necessary data flow.
VA received $120 million in supplemental funding to implement this new benefit, $100 million in the General Operating Expenses (GOE) account and $20 million in the IT appropriation account. To date, VA has transferred $13.25 million from its supplemental IT funds to SPAWAR for the purpose of project management for both the long- and short-term solutions and IT support for the data integration to support the long-term solution.
The remaining $6.75 million from the supplemental funding will be used for modifications to existing VA systems, data integration, and testing associated with the data-integration initiative. VA has requested a reprogramming of $35 million of the available $100 million of GOE funds into the IT appropriation account to pay for the development and implementation of this long-term solution. The remaining $65 million in GOE funds is sufficient to cover the additional 400 FTE.
Project Review, Milestones, and Scope of Delegated Responsibilities
To meet the program’s August 1, 2009, effective date, VA has assigned project oversight duties, established milestones, and instituted frequent oversight review.
VA Education Service established a Program Executive Office (PEO) that is responsible for monitoring and coordinating all Post-9/11 GI Bill implementation activities. In addition to the PEO, VA contracted with the MITRE Corporation, a not-for-profit research and consultation firm, as well as SPAWAR, to develop the long-term IT solution.
The first critical milestone was met on November 14, 2008, with the completion of the development of the business requirements for the short-term payment solution. The next critical milestone for the short-term solution is completion of the IT functional requirements on November 26th. With the completion of these functional specifications, detailed design of the solution will start, with an expected completion date for the design of all components of the financial delivery portion by March 31, 2009.
With the completion of the business requirements, staff will then establish these requirements so that they are applicable to the design and development of the long-term solution.
VA/DoD Identity Repository
The VA/DoD Identity Repository (VADIR) supports an effort that has been underway for the past 5 years to collapse the multiple data flows between VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) into the minimum number possible. This repository will be expanded to incorporate the additional data necessary to support the Chapter 33 program.
In cooperation with the Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), modifications to the VA /DoD Identity Repository (VADIR) for the incorporation of the unique Chapter 33 data elements are underway. The exchange of test files between VA and DoD is scheduled to begin this week.
At the end of September, VA completed a draft of a proposed regulations package required for implementation of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This package is now under review by the Office of Management and Budget.
Madam Chairwoman, this concludes my statement. I, Mr. Warren, and Mr. Frye would be pleased to answer any questions you or any of the other members of the Subcommittee may have.