VA Real Property: Preliminary Observations on Challenges Limiting VA’s Ability to Effectively Manage Its Assets

What GAO Found

GAO has identified key characteristics of an asset management framework designed to optimize funding and decision-making related to capital assets. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to have challenges meeting at least three of these key characteristics.

  • Staffing resources. This key characteristic calls for organizational leadership to provide the necessary resources for asset management to succeed. Previously, VA officials described problems resulting from low levels of staffing resources, including project delays and difficulties in managing projects. VA has taken some actions to improve staffing levels, such as establishing special salary rates for engineers, and VA’s vacancy rate for general engineers has improved, decreasing from 17.2 percent in fiscal year 2019 to 12.6 percent in fiscal year 2020. VA officials, however, continue to describe staffing difficulties in planning and executing projects and limits on the number of projects that facilities can undertake.
  • Communication and collaboration. This key characteristic calls for organizations to promote a culture of information-sharing across traditional agency boundaries to help ensure that agencies make effective, enterprise-wide decisions regarding their assets. VA has taken steps to improve communication among offices with asset management responsibilities, such as by issuing an asset management directive that VA officials said would help to facilitate such collaboration. However, in current work GAO has found instances of insufficient communication, such as lack of (1) collaboration early in project development between local offices and the Office of Construction and Facilities Management and (2) coordination between construction offices and the Office of Information and Technology when bringing facilities online.
  • Measurement and evaluation. This key characteristic calls for agencies to continuously evaluate the performance of their asset management systems and implement necessary improvements to optimize the assets’ value and ensure the assets reflect the organization’s current goals. VA previously developed goals and measures for its program of inspections to identify maintenance and repair needs in health care settings. However, currently VA lacks goals with related measures that would evaluate its asset management processes and point the way to necessary improvements.

Why GAO Did This Study

VA manages a vast portfolio of real property assets, including a healthcare system that provides care at 171 VA medical centers and 1,112 outpatient sites to over 9 million veterans enrolled in the VA health care program. VA has pressing infrastructure needs, including adapting to changes in veterans’ demographics and maintaining or replacing aging facilities.

GAO’s key characteristics of an asset management framework state that effectively managing assets requires, among other things, maintaining leadership support that provides the necessary resources; a collaborative organizational culture; and a system for evaluating and improving asset management performance. However, GAO’s previous and ongoing work has found that VA continues to face challenges on these fronts. Although VA has implemented some GAO recommendations, several priority recommendations remain outstanding in areas related to asset management, such as staffing and capital planning.

GAO was asked to testify about VA’s management of its capital asset portfolio. This statement summarizes GAO’s findings from prior reports and preliminary observations from ongoing work examining VA’s capital asset management. In ongoing work, GAO reviewed VA documentation and interviewed officials from VA headquarters offices involved in asset management. GAO also interviewed personnel at a selection of eight VA medical centers and seven regional offices and from four Veterans Service Organizations about VA’s asset management.

For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.

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    What GAO Found GAO's prior work has shown that the financial services industry has made little or no progress in increasing diversity at the senior management level. The figure below shows the latest available data on diversity at senior levels. Race/Ethnicity and Gender Representation of Executive/Senior-Level Management in the Financial Services Industry, 2018 One common theme of GAO's recent reports on diversity in the financial services industry is the importance of using data to assess diversity and inclusion efforts. In 2017, GAO reported that financial services firms said it is important for firms to collect and analyze data to assess workforce diversity. Notably, all the financial services firms with which GAO spoke agreed on the importance of analyzing employee data. Some firm representatives noted that with such data, they can analyze the gender and racial/ethnic diversity of new hires, employees leaving the organization, and newly promoted staff and managers. In 2019 and 2020, GAO reported that the Federal Home Loan Banks (FHLBanks) and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the enterprises) track diversity composition data on their workforce, recruitment, and hiring. The FHLBanks and the enterprises use these data to compare their performance against benchmarks, such as prior-year metrics and peer institutions, and set goals for future performance. They also incorporate diversity targets into their incentive compensation goals or performance competencies for management. The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) uses data to oversee the workforce diversity and inclusion efforts of the FHLBanks and the enterprises. As GAO reported in 2019 and 2020, FHFA collects and reviews quarterly and annual workforce diversity data from the FHLBanks and enterprises. For example, FHFA assesses each FHLBank's performance in workforce diversity using the quarterly data. In 2017, FHFA also began reviewing diversity and inclusion efforts as part of its annual examinations of the FHLBanks and the enterprises. Why GAO Did This Study The financial services industry provides services that help families build wealth and is essential to the economic growth of the country. For instance, the FHLBanks, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac play important roles in supporting the U.S. housing market. The FHLBanks include 11 federally chartered banks that provide liquidity for member institutions, such as commercial and community banks, to use in support of housing finance and community lending. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac purchase single-family and multifamily mortgage loans that lenders already made to borrowers. Congressional members and others have highlighted the need for the financial services industry to create opportunities for all Americans, including supporting a diverse workforce. This statement discusses (1) how financial service firms use data to assess workforce diversity efforts; (2) how the FHLBanks and the enterprises use data to assess their diversity efforts; and (3) how FHFA oversees diversity efforts at the FHLBanks and the enterprises. This statement is primarily based on three GAO reports (GAO-18-64, GAO-19-589, and GAO-20-637) on diversity efforts in the financial services industry and at FHLBanks and the enterprises. For the reports, GAO reviewed relevant literature and data, and interviewed representatives of financial services firms and industry and diversity advocacy organizations. GAO also reviewed documents and interviewed officials from the FHLBanks, enterprises, and FHFA. For more information, contact Daniel Garcia-Diaz at (202) 512-8678 or GarciaDiazD@gao.gov.
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