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A new government report criticizes Defense Department military spouse programs for not being able to prove that they are effective in helping spouses get jobs despite millions in federal funding.
The report, released Dec. 13 by the Government Accountability Office, highlights the limits on performance tracking within the DoD's military spouse employment assistance programs, as well as a lack of coordination between the services resulting in duplicated efforts and user confusion.
"Performance tracking is important," said Andrew Sherrill, who authored the report. "It comes down to the idea that they're providing federal investment to provide these programs, so it's important for the tax payers military spouses and agency to get an understanding of how these programs are being effective."
Military spouses have a 26 percent unemployment rate, according to the DoD. The agency spent $56 million on spouse hiring programs in fiscal year 2011, the report states.
The report examines three programs: the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP), the tuition assistance My Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA), and a career advice website call center operated through Military OneSource. The programs are aimed at helping military spouses find and keep employment despite frequent moves.
DoD does have some performance measures in place, but they are not sufficient, the report says. For example, DoD tracks the percentage of MyCAA funded education courses military spouses complete with a passing grade. However, the department does not track how many spouses who use MyCAA end up finding work.
MSEP, which connects civilian companies with spouses and veterans, currently tracks through an informal survey process whether or not spouses were hired. But that data, the GAO report says, is not reliable. And the Military OneSource center does not track success at all, according to the report
The report recommends that the Defense Department implement nine basic attributes of good performance tracking, which include using a measurable target as well as objectivity.
Some of GAO's tracking recommendations are already being implemented, DoD officials told the GAO in an official response included in the report's release. MSEP, for example, plans to roll-out an online tracking system where partnership employers must report how many spouses they've hired.
MyCAA is looking to track the change in income for those who have completed courses. And the call center is planning to have counselors conduct follow-up calls with users.
Still, "GAO recognizes DOD's efforts, but given their preliminary nature, GAO continues to believe DOD would benefit from further incorporating key practices and attributes," the report states.
"DoD has taken steps in the right direction by exploring options to collect outcome data and planning for a long-term evaluation. However, as DoD works to identify the performance measures … DOD can benefit by considering attributes of successful performance measures," authors of the report wrote.
The report also examines the confusing service duplication between the Military OneSource career center and employment assistance programs provided on most bases.
"During our site visits and interviews, we heard about some issues that have been created by having two different programs – the Career Center and the military services' employment assistance programs -- that appear to offer some similar services. Specifically, we heard … about how often spouses are referred to the career center, instances where spouses have been referred back and forth between the two programs, and potential duplication of efforts," the report says.
The report recommended eight steps DoD can take to make sure the programs are working together, but highlighted two in particular -- agreeing on roles and responsibilities, and setting up compatible policies and procedures. They said doing so will help spouses understand what each program does and how it can help them.
DoD said it plans to use the recommendations.
"As the program matures and continues to evolve, DoD looks forward to continuing to incorporate and improve the eight practices for sustained collaboration recommended by the GAO," DoD said in their response included with the report.
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