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Tri-Regional Conference

Talking Points
Espiridion "Al" Borrego
Tri-Regional Conference
Nashville, TN
July 8, 1997

Good morning. It’s a pleasure to be with you. This is the first time I have gotten together with the regional staff as acting assistant secretary.

Bill has asked me to talk with you about where we are as an agency and what I see in the future for us. He has also allotted plenty of time for questions. I’ll be glad to give you both the party line and my personal views because, above all, I believe that clear and open communications are the cornerstones for an effective agency.

It is an honor and privilege to serve the veterans community at the head of an agency which has shown its ability to reinvent many of its functions while continuing to provide important job development and training services to its customers.

We can all take pride in the improvements Preston Taylor instituted throughout the agency. With your help, I know we can continue to build on them and make VETS into a world class organization.

As we move forward, I know that we will have support from the new Secretary of Labor, Alexis M. Herman. She is sensitive to the needs of veterans in the civilian labor force.

I have had several one-on-one meetings with her and I know she understands that veterans are an important constituent group; not only with special needs but a group that can make special contributions to our work force and our nation.

At her confirmation hearing, she listed five goals for the Department of Labor. Most of them impact veterans and the work of VETS.

Secretary Herman believes in equipping every working American with the skills to find and hold good jobs. Our job training grants under JTPA go to organizations working with disabled and Vietnam-era veterans to help them get and hold good jobs.

She is mobilizing the department to help people move from welfare to work. We are regenerating our job development and placement programs for homeless veterans with a $2.5 million request in our 1998 budget.

Our enforcement of USERRA includes ensuring that the pension and retirement benefits of veterans are protected while they serve our country. And we help Ms. Herman fulfill her commitment to helping working people balance work and family responsibilities by including information for spouses and children in our TAP programs.

In developing our strategic plan, we can confidently link our goals and objectives to hers and know that the concerns and needs of veterans will be well served.

Strategic planning will play an increasingly important part of VETS program activities. Just before he retired, Preston testified on the Government Performance Results Act.

The law requires that we measure success in new ways and that we justify our budgets and our staffs using outcome criteria that is measurable and quantifiable. GPRA will profoundly affect every aspect of how we, and all other government agencies, do business.

I know the group working on new performance measures for DVOPs and LVERs is really grappling with creating outcome measures, as opposed to output measures, which has been what we used to justify our activities in the past.

I can only say that the effort you are putting into this task is critical -- it goes to the very heart of how VETS will function in the future.

In addition to linking our future budgets to clearly defined goals and objectives, we are experiencing fundamental changes in the way labor exchange, welfare, and many other social services are being provided.

One-stop centers, privatization, direct Internet access to America’s Job Bank, welfare-to-work are all impacting how VETS provides programs and services to veterans. Veterans preference, priority of service -- familiar phrases which may be taking on new meaning as laws, policies, and administrative directives attempt to deal with changes in the workplace and the economy at large.

Technology is also impacting our enforcement programs. Later this month, VETS will have its second “expert system” up on the Internet.

This one is on USERRA. It will help an employer or a veteran, reservist, or National Guard member understand a very complicated law and, by answering a series of questions, help them to decide whether to pursue a complaint.

This, combined with the information now available from the USERRA RLC, will enable us to do a better job providing technical assistance, investigating complaints, and developing better case files to forward for legal action.

And Gordon Berg, our public information officer, is working with Rob, Jeff, and the CUE to come up with some user-friendly pamphlets like the one on the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act.

So we are adding some important tools to our enforcement toolkit.

How will we accomplish all these things? Well, money would help. Congress is just now returning from its July 4 recess and will get into the 1998 budget process in earnest.

If we get our request, we will have a tight, but sufficient budget. When I left, Hary was putting the finishing touches on the 1999 budget request to the Department. That budget will position us for the 21st century.

Where do I see VETS going in the new millennium? Well, let me do a little crystal ball gazing with you.

I see quality as the watchword for us in the future -- quality of services we provide to our customers, quality of jobs we make available to veterans, and quality opportunities we make available to our staff.

We can no longer be content with just finding jobs for veterans. We have to find good, career building jobs. We have to be concerned about salary levels, benefits, growth potential, and retention rates.

We must show that we are a valued added service provider, especially for veterans who may experience difficulties in the workplace because of perceived disability, discrimination, or homelessness.

Our MOUs with the VA on voc/rehab and with OFCCP on sharing VETS 100 and EEO 1 data put us in a good position to meet these goals.

I see VETS becoming more of a pro-active marketing agency for veterans. We have to reach out to all kinds of organizations and let them know that veterans are an underutilized resource in the civilian economy.

Our message needs to get to employer organizations like local chambers of commerce; to civic and religious organizations that work in your communities. Secretary Herman is a big believer in forging partnerships among constituent groups. We need to look beyond our traditional partners and make new alliances.

Finally, I see our VETS staff becoming more multi skilled. We are upgrading the VPA positions, adding senior investigators, working to secure access to the latest equipment and to provide the training to use it to its fullest capacity.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said there is nothing permanent except change. As we move into the 21st century, the needs and aspirations of veterans will change, too.

Our challenge is to anticipate them if we can, meet them when called to do so, and look over the horizon and be ready to serve our customers with the dedication and quality that has come to be the hallmark of VETS.

I look forward to the challenge and to working with you as we achieve success.

Thank you for your attention. I’ll try and answer your questions.