What the GAO found
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) manages an extensive capital portfolio to provide health care to registered veterans. GAO found that VA has faced and continues to face challenges that address three of the key characteristics GAO identified of an asset management framework. These are (1) leadership support that provides necessary resources, such as staffing; (2) communication beyond traditional agency boundaries; and (3) assessment and continuous improvement of asset management performance. These features are designed to optimize funding and agency decision-making.
- Staff resources. Re leadership that provides the necessary resources, the GAO has previously identified staffing issues that have affected VA’s ability to manage its assets and have resulted in consequences such as delayed projects and difficulty managing projects. VA officials continued to describe staffing issues, such as difficulties in planning and executing projects and limits on the number of projects facilities can undertake. VA officials described their efforts to address these challenges. These efforts include, for example, the development of new staffing models and the establishment of special salary rates for engineers. However, it is too early to determine the extent to which these efforts will improve staffing.
- Communication. Re communication beyond traditional agency boundaries, VA has taken steps to improve communication between asset management offices. These steps include issuing an asset management guideline that VA officials say would help facilitate such communication. However, GAO found persistent instances of (1) insufficient communication early in project development between field offices and the Office of Construction and Facilities Management and (2) communication between construction offices and the Office information and technology to ensure that information technology needs are met when bringing facilities online. This lack of communication can be attributed, in part, to a lack of direction from VA on how and when to communicate. Improving communication between these offices could help avoid unnecessary delays in project development and execution and help VA bring the space online more efficiently.
- Performance measurement. Regarding the need for agencies to continuously assess the performance of their asset management systems and implement the necessary improvements, VA does not have sufficient objectives and performance measures. Although it collects information about its facilities and has certain broad strategic goals, the agency does not have measurable goals to help it evaluate its asset management and determine how well that management helps VA to achieve these broad strategic goals, such as a goal to reduce the amount of deferred maintenance. Although VA officials recognized the importance of such metrics, they noted that they had found it difficult to develop performance metrics, for reasons such as the difficulty of attributing results to the actions of the VA. ‘agency. Nonetheless, previous GAO work indicates the value of doing so. In the absence of such measures, VA is limited in its ability to determine the extent to which its asset management helps VA achieve its strategic goals and objectives.
Why GAO Did This Study
Providing health care to more than 9 million registered veterans, VA manages a portfolio that includes 5,625 owned buildings and 1,690 leased buildings as of fiscal year 2020. VA has pressing needs associated with these assets, not only maintaining or replacing aging facilities, but also adapting to changes in demographics and veterans’ needs.
The GAO was asked to review VA’s management of these real estate assets (fixed assets). This report examines: (1) VA’s management of its personnel resources for the construction and maintenance of its capital assets, (2) VA’s communication between offices involved in capital asset management and their support, and (3 ) VA’s assessment of its performance in managing fixed assets. GAO reviewed VA documentation and past GAO reports and other reports on VA’s asset management. GAO also interviewed managers from VA headquarters offices involved in asset management, VA managers in a non-generalizable selection of eight geographically dispersed VA medical centers and seven regional offices that managed the different types of asset management projects. VA Capital, and representatives from four veterans service organizations.