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Gross Mismanagement Found at Veteran Call Center

July 24, 2013

A recent report published by the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has uncovered some troubling mismanagement in the Veteran Employment Services Offices (VESO) regarding the group’s use of call centers. The report, “Review of Acquisitions Supporting the Veteran Employment Services Office,” was conducted to determine if the Office of Human Resources and Administration (HR&A), an administrative branch of the VA, had adequate controls to ensure that call center services contracted to support  (VESO) in 2012 and 2013 were appropriate and justified.

VESO (formerly the Veteran Employment Coordination Service) was established in July 2011 with a mission to increase VA’s veteran employment by recruiting, retaining, and reintegrating qualified veterans. U.S. veterans have far higher rates of unemployment than the general U.S. population, so on paper, it was a worthy goal. To this end, VESO opened call centers in Pennsylvania and Virginia in October 2011. These centers were staffed with contract personnel whose goal was to assist veterans with employment questions.

While it sounds like a program with an admirable goal, the details didn’t work out so well. The report found that the call centers, which employed about 70 people, were taking an average of only 180 calls per day. This averages to less than 2.5 calls per employee per day. (There’s no information on what the call center workers were doing with the other approximately 7 hours and 45 minutes of their shifts. Solitaire and Angry Birds come to mind.)

Inexplicably, despite the low call volume, VESO later expanded the call centers’ hours of operation. The move was made in response to projections that overstated actual average daily calls by more than 1,000 percent. The report indicates that this expansion occurred because HR&A did not require VESO to conduct a thorough analysis to justify the need for expanding the contractors’ call center services. VESO also did not have performance metrics to assess veterans’ use of the call centers, and the contractors’ performance on providing services, such as call center coaching to veterans, was unmonitored.

The report states, “HR&A acquired excess services to support VESO operations when it expanded an interagency agreement (IA) with the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to provide two employment call centers operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These call centers had call volumes so low during a 13-month period that each call center employee handled an average of 2.4 calls per day.”

Report also found that also found that VESO, with approval from HR&A, awarded a $4.4 million, one-year contract for human resources support services that duplicated VESO’s own internal capabilities and contracted for functions that should have remained internal. This occurred because the HR&A did not require VESO to conduct a thorough analysis to justify the need for the services, according to the report.

The revelations haven’t won the VA any friends, particularly on the political right.

“It’s the latest exhibit in the case that the VA, the second-largest federal department, is long overdue for fundamental reform and management oversight,” wrote Pete Hegseth for the National Review Online, which has frequently criticized the VA for dysfunction and waste.

Regardless of one’s political leanings and given the evidence in the report, it’s tough to disagree with that assessment.

Edited by Ryan Sartor