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Page 1 GAO-19-438R Transitioning Servicemembers
441 G St. N.W. Washington, DC 20548
Accessible Version June 17, 2019 The Honorable James M. Inhofe Chairman
The Honorable Jack Reed Ranking Member Committee on Armed Services United States Senate
The Honorable Adam Smith Chairman
The Honorable Mac Thornberry Ranking Member Committee on Armed Services House of Representatives
Transitioning Servicemembers: Information on Military Employment Assistance Centers
Approximately 200,000 servicemembers transition from military service to civilian life each year, according to the Department of Defense (DOD). Some veterans may experience difficulty finding civilian employment after leaving the service. For example, a veteran may be unfamiliar with effective job search strategies, and may not know how their military experience and training could apply to jobs in the civilian workforce. Federal law requires DOD and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish permanent employment assistance centers at appropriate military and Coast Guard installations.1 Under the law, DOD and DHS are also required to take additional steps that may help servicemembers apply their skills and experience to future civilian employment, including providing servicemembers with certification or verification of the job skills and experience acquired while on active duty relevant to employment in the civilian sector and developing procedures for sharing certain information with civilian entities, such as potential employers and state employment agencies.
The conference report accompanying the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA) included a provision for us to review the employment assistance programs authorized by 10 U.S.C. § 1143.2 This report describes (1) the number and locations of employment assistance centers currently in operation, and what is known about how frequently servicemembers use them, and (2) how DOD and the Coast Guard record servicemembers' training that may be applicable to future civilian employment, and what procedures are in place to share such information with civilian entities.
1 The law does not define what an “appropriate” installation is; therefore, DOD and DHS have discretion in determining where to establish such centers. For the purposes of this report, we refer to both military installations and Coast Guard installations as “military installations.” 2 H.R. Rep. No. 115-874, at 867 (2018).
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To address our objectives, we interviewed officials at DOD and DHS, including officials from the Armed Forces–the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard–and reviewed prior related GAO reports.3 For our first objective, we reviewed a list of military employment assistance centers from DOD and the Coast Guard, interviewed officials, and reviewed agency documents reporting data on the use of employment services at the centers. To assess the reliability of the data on military employment assistance centers, we interviewed officials and performed basic data quality checks to identify missing data and potential errors. We determined that the data were sufficiently reliable for the purpose of providing a listing of employment assistance centers within DOD and the Coast Guard. To assess the reliability of DOD data on the use of employment services at the centers, we interviewed agency officials and reviewed agency reports and determined the data were sufficiently reliable to report the number of participants in the Transition Assistance Program
(TAP) for fiscal year 2018.
For our second objective, we reviewed agency documentation and interviewed officials about the various databases and documents used to record the applicable training servicemembers received. In addition, we interviewed officials at DOD and the Department of Labor to determine how servicemembers’ information can be shared with state employment agencies and potential employers. We also reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and policies.
We conducted this performance audit from October 2018 to June 2019 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.
Results in Brief
About 300 employment assistance centers have been established at military installations worldwide. These centers operate the mandatory Transition Assistance Program (TAP), which provides counseling, employment assistance, and information on veterans’ benefits to help separating servicemembers transition to civilian life. Other employment and family support services are also available at the centers.
Complete and reliable data on the use of all of the support services administered by the centers are not available but efforts are under way to collect such data. DOD reported that 138,256 (90 percent) of eligible separating active duty servicemembers; 12,069 (57 percent) of National Guard members; and 13,630 (64 percent) of eligible Reserve service members participated in TAP in fiscal year 2018. Though not required, according to agency officials, the agency collected data for fiscal year 2017 from each military branch of service on the employment readiness and other family support services provided at the centers. However, DOD officials stated that the centers were reporting the information differently. As a result, DOD is planning to revise the reporting requirements and method of data collection to gather more accurate information. The Coast Guard also collects TAP participation data, but GAO's recent prior work found that the data were unreliable and the agency has not yet implemented GAO’s recommendation to establish policies and procedures to improve the reliability and
3 The term “Armed Forces” refers to the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and U.S. Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is a military service within DHS when not operating as a service in the Navy.
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completeness of the data. Coast Guard officials reported that they do not collect data on the other employment services provided at its centers beyond TAP, and the agency is not required to do so.
DOD and the Coast Guard use several databases and documents to record servicemembers’ training that may be applicable to future civilian employment. For example, the Verification of Military Experience and Training is one key source, which compiles information from the military branches’ databases and lists the training servicemembers received and their military occupations in civilian terms. DOD and Coast Guard officials said that TAP guidance helps to ensure that servicemembers have access to this document and similar documents, which the servicemember may then share with potential employers and state employment agencies. As part of completing TAP, according to DOD officials, servicemembers must confirm they either have hard copies of their documents or know how to access them online.
We are not making any recommendations in this report.
In 1990, a law was enacted that required the establishment of permanent employment assistance centers at appropriate military installations and additional actions related to helping servicemembers obtain civilian employment.4 Under federal law, DOD and DHS are required to provide separating servicemembers a certification or verification of their job skills and experience acquired while on active duty. They are also required to establish procedures for releasing certain information to state employment agencies and other organizations to assist servicemembers with locating civilian employment and training opportunities. DOD has additional responsibilities related to tracking information about servicemembers’ training and sharing information with civilian entities. Specifically, DOD is required to establish a database to record all training performed by military servicemembers that may have application to employment in the civilian sector. DOD is also required to respond to state requests for confirmation of a servicemember’s job skills and experience within 5 business days. DOD and DHS are also generally required to ensure that separating servicemembers participate in TAP.5
Servicemembers and veterans can also access employment assistance—including job search assistance, job placement assistance, and referrals to employers—through their state employment agency and the American Job Center system, which is overseen by the Department of Labor (DOL).6 For example, veterans receiving unemployment benefits may participate in the Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessment program, which involves attending an in-person orientation and meeting with a job center caseworker, who
4 Pub. L. No. 101-510, § 502(a)(1), 104 Stat. 1485, 1551, codified at 10 U.S.C. § 1143. 5 See 10 U.S.C. § 1144(c). 6 About 2,500 American Job Centers operate nationwide. These centers provide job seekers a range of employment- related services at no cost, including training referrals, career counseling, and job listings. According to DOL, veterans receive priority service at American Job Centers, me