Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Vets Ismael "Junior" Ortiz
Testimony of Acting Assistant Secretary for Veterans'
Employment and Training Ismael "Junior" Ortiz
before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs,
Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity,
United States House of Representatives,
March 8, 2012
Chairman Stutzman, Ranking Member Braley and members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to provide the views of the Department of Labor (DOL or Department) on pending legislation aimed at helping Veterans and transitioning Service Members succeed in the civilian workforce.
President Obama and Secretary Solis are committed to ensuring that the men and women who serve this country have the employment support, assistance and opportunities they deserve. As a result, the Administration has undertaken initiatives to train, transition and employ Veterans; encouraged the Federal hiring of Veterans; and called upon the private sector to hire and employ America's Veterans. DOL, through the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) and other agencies, is playing an important role in these and other initiatives by providing Veterans and transitioning Service Members with resources and expertise to assist and prepare them to obtain meaningful careers, maximize their employment opportunities and protect their employment rights.
While this hearing is focused on numerous bills before the Subcommittee, I will limit my remarks to those pieces of legislation that have a direct impact on the Department of Labor, including H.R. 3524, H.R. 3610, H.R. 4051, and H.R. 4072 and will provide the relevant cost estimates at a later time. I respectfully defer to the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA), Department of Education (ED) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on the remaining pieces of legislation.
HR 3524 — Disabled Veterans Employment Protection Act
H.R. 3524, the "Disabled Veterans Employment Protection Act," would amend the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) of 1994 (P.L. 103-353) to extend USERRA protections to individuals with service-connected illness, injury, or disabilities by creating a new section 4320 in Title 38, United States Code (38 U.S.C. 4320). The legislation would also amend USERRA's anti-discrimination provisions in section 4311 to define "service-connected disability" as any injury, disease, illness or other disorder formally determined by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to have been incurred in or permanently aggravated by a period of active service in the uniformed services. Consistent with USERRA's existing language regarding persons absent from work while fulfilling military obligations, persons undergoing treatment for a service-connected disability would be deemed to be on furlough during such absence, and would retain all seniority and non-seniority benefits similar to current USERRA protections.
This bill, as drafted, would have a significant impact on relationships between employees with past, present, or future military obligations and their current and prospective employers. Both parties would have to become familiar with their respective rights and obligations under the new law, in addition to making any necessary adjustments in work schedules or similar arrangements to comply with the law. As drafted, the bill raises technical concerns about its interaction with USERRA's reemployment eligibility provisions, as well as with the Family and Medical Leave Act. We look forward to working with the Subcommittee to provide any requested technical assistance and to better understand the intent of the legislation, to help ensure that it does not unintentionally harm Veterans' employment relationships.
HR 3610 — Streamlining Workforce Development Programs Act of 2011
H.R. 3610, the "Streamlining Workforce Development Programs Act of 2011," consolidates over two-thirds of current workforce programs and repeals several programs that target particular populations. We will comment here only on the parts of the bill that affect VETS programs. As part of this consolidation, the bill repeals the authorization for most Veterans grant programs, including the Transition Assistance Program, the Disabled Veterans Outreach Program, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, and the Veterans Workforce Investment Program. Instead, the bill establishes a single Veterans' Workforce Investment Fund to States that will serve as the primary resource for supporting the workforce system's services to Veterans. This funding will be allotted based on the percentage of each States' relative share of the Nation's unemployed Veterans.
H.R. 3610 requires each local area to hire one or more Local Veterans' Employment Representative (LVER) staff as part of its Veterans Workforce Investment Fund activities. LVER staff would conduct outreach to employers and facilitate services to Veterans, including disabled Veterans. Currently, the intensive services that are needed by disabled Veterans are provided by specialized staff as part of the Disability Veterans' Outreach Program (DVOP). The passage of H.R. 3610 would repeal the Disabled Veteran Outreach Program without assuring that the same services would be provided by the remaining LVER staff.
Other provisions contained in H.R. 3610 would result in significant changes to current Veterans services, such as the elimination of HVRP program which provides an intensive, holistic case management approach to serving homeless Veterans with the critical component of placement into meaningful sustainable jobs that break the cycle of homelessness. This could leave thousands of homeless Veterans without the intensive services this program provides.
H.R. 3610 would also repeal the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). During FY 2011, VETS provided 4,203 TAP Employment Workshops to nearly 145,000 participants, at both domestic and overseas locations. If the bill were passed, the Department would not have the authorization or funding to provide these needed services.
While DOL is committed to Federal fiscal responsibility and supports efforts to streamline the training and employment services provided to Veterans, the Administration is still reviewing this bill in light of its broader scope and significant implications for the workforce system. The Department believes it is absolutely critical that any reform allow for sufficient accountability and ensure that Veterans receive the services they need to obtain a job. DOL looks forward to working with the Subcommittee to ensure that Veterans and others receive the high-quality services they need to succeed in the workforce.
HR 4051- TAP Modernization Act of 2012
H.R. 4051, the "TAP Modernization Act of 2012," would require the Secretary of Labor to provide the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) under title 10, U.S.C., section 1144 (10 U.S.C. 1144) "to eligible individuals at locations other than military installations in not less than three and not more than five States selected by the Secretary" during the three year period beginning on the date of the enactment of this bill.
Unlike the TAP Employment Workshops currently provided to transitioning Service Members and their spouses under 10 U.S.C., 1144, an "eligible individual" for this program would be a Veteran or the spouse of a Veteran. The Transition Assistance Program Employment Workshop is designed specifically for transitioning Service Members and their spouses and as such, the curriculum is not appropriate for all Veterans. However, One-Stop Career Centers typically provide specific workshops on resume writing, interviewing, and how to conduct a job search. Thus, the relevant components of the Employment Workshop are already available to all Veterans.
If the intent of the legislation is to increase outreach to unemployed Veterans, DOL is already involved in Veteran-targeted outreach initiatives. These include the Gold Card initiative, which provides up to 6 months of case management and intensive services to eligible Post 9/11 era Veterans, and an initiative with the Army to provide additional employment assistance to Army Veterans who are drawing unemployment compensation benefits.
As workshops are already provided for job seekers at One-Stop Career Centers, coupled with the ongoing initiatives specifically focused on unemployed Veterans, this proposed legislation appears to be duplicative. We look forward to working with the Subcommittee to identify any needed program improvements.
HR 4072- Consolidating Veteran Employment Services for Improved Performance Act of 2012
H.R. 4072, the "Consolidating Veteran Employment Services for Improved Performance Act of 2012," would transfer all responsibilities, functions, personnel, assets, and liabilities of the programs under title 38, Chapters 41, 42, 43 and 20 of the United States Code from the Department of Labor to VA by October 2013. The intent of this legislation appears to be to transfer all Veteran related services and programs from DOL to VA.
Within the Department of Labor, VETS has primary responsibility for many of these programs, including the Jobs for Veterans State Grants (JVSG) Program, Transition Assistance Program Employment Workshops (TAP), the Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program (HVRP) and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). However, other DOL agencies, such as the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), are also directly involved in the administration of programs that would be transferred by H.R. 4072.
VETS' core mission is employment for Veterans. The agency's functions to meet that core mission fall into two categories: (1) employment and training services; and (2) labor law enforcement. In doing its work, it is of course essential that VETS coordinates its activities with other Federal agencies, such as the VA and DOD in the Transition Assistance Program, to ensure our men and women who served in the Armed Forces are taken care of.
The "One-Stop System" is the cornerstone of the Nation's workforce system and is administered by DOL, along with partner programs funded by the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Agriculture. The One-Stop system, which consists of over 2,500 One-Stop Career Centers throughout the country, ensures the coordinated delivery of employment and training services to employers and individuals seeking upward mobility.
Much of what DOL does for Veterans and other eligible persons concentrates on maximizing the employment and training opportunities developed though our relationship with State Workforce Agencies. For instance, VETS offers employment and training services to eligible Veterans primarily through the Jobs for Veterans State Grant (JVSG) program. This program provides grants to State Workforce Agencies to hire, train, and support employment staff. The DVOPs and LVERs funded by these grants provide intensive services to those Veterans that face barriers to employment and reach out and educate employers on the benefits of hiring Veterans.
DOL is not only an employment and training agency; it is also a worker protection agency with a vital role in enforcing the employment rights for Veterans and Service Members. VETS is responsible for promulgating regulations interpreting, administering, and helping enforce the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA). USERRA provides employment and reemployment rights to eligible Service Members and Veterans by protecting those individuals from adverse discrimination due to their past, present, or future military service, status or obligations. VETS' professional investigative staff accepts and investigates complaints filed by individuals who believe that their employment or reemployment rights have been violated by public or private-sector employers. In addition, VETS staff provides technical assistance and briefings on the law to the public. Many employment disputes arise from misunderstandings on employee and employer rights and obligations under the law, and, as a result, VETS seeks to resolve issues at the earliest possible opportunity. Since September 11, 2001, VETS has received and investigated on average, approximately 1,375 cases per year. VETS conducts thorough and complete investigations, including obtaining all documentary evidence and witness statements. VETS also has subpoena authority and uses it when necessary.
VETS works with the employers and claimants to achieve a satisfactory resolution. When VETS is unable to resolve the issue, the claimant may request that the case be referred to either the U.S. Department of Justice (for non-Federal employers) or the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) (for Federal-sector employers) for those agencies to determine whether they will provide representation in Federal District Court or before the Merit Systems Protection Board, respectively. In the alternative, the claimant may elect to pursue relief as a pro se litigant or through private counsel at his or her own expense.
In addition to its USERRA responsibilities, VETS is also responsible for investigating complaints received pursuant to the Veterans' Employment Opportunities Act of 1998 (VEOA; 5 U.S.C. 3330a) from preference-eligible Veterans who have alleged that their Veterans' preference rights in Federal hiring or during a reductions-in-force (RIFs) have been violated. The proposed HR 4072 fails to include VETS' Veterans' preference among those functions to be transferred to VA.
Another enforcement program that would be transferred to the VA under the bill is DOL's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) enforcement of Sections 4212 (a)(1) and 4212 (a)(2)(A) of the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA). VEVRAA prohibits Federal contractors and subcontractors ("contractors") from discriminating against protected Veterans1 and requires them to ensure equal opportunity for protected Veterans in all aspects of employment, such as recruitment, including listing job openings with appropriate employment services, hiring, training, and promotion.2
OFCCP enforces two other laws that require nondiscrimination and affirmative action by contractors, in addition to VEVRAA: Executive Order 11246 (which covers race, national origin, color, sex, and religious discrimination) and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (which covers disability discrimination). Today, OFCCP conducts a robust program that monitors the more than 179,000 contractor establishments (or facilities), with contracts totaling over $700 billion covering approximately one quarter of American workers -- for compliance with all three of these laws.
If enforcement of Sections 4212(a)(1) and 4212(a)(2)(A) of VEVRAA were to be moved from DOL to the VA, care must be taken to avoid adverse effects on contractors' compliance with those sections. Under its two other authorities, OFCCP already conducts thousands of investigations of contractors' employment practices every year, and practices related to the employment of protected Veterans is fully integrated into OFCCP's systems.
VETS has a core mission of providing employment and reemployment services to Veterans and transitioning Service Members, as well as protecting their employment rights. In doing this, VETS partners with other DOL agencies as well as VA and DOD. DOL looks forward to working with the Subcommittee and our partners to ensure that we provide effective assistance to Veterans.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to entertain any questions you or the other Members of the Committee may have.
1Those with disabilities, those recently discharged, and those who served during a war, campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge is authorized.
2Coverage of contractors and Veterans varies according to when the contract was entered into. For contracts entered into before December 1, 2003, the contract dollar threshold is $25,000, and the Veterans covered are: (1) special disabled Veterans; (2) Veterans of the Vietnam era; (3) Veterans who served on active duty in the Armed Forces during a war or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized; and (4) Veterans separated from the service for one year or less. For contracts entered into on or after December 1, 1993, the contract dollar threshold is $100,000, and the Veterans covered are: (1) disabled Veterans; (2) Veterans who served on active duty in the Armed Forces during a war or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized; (3) Veterans who, while serving on active duty in the Armed Forces, participated in a United States military operation for which an Armed Forces service medal was awarded pursuant to Executive Order No. 12985; and (4) Veterans separated from the service for three years or less.