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> “Leaning Forward” - The State of the Association, 2014
“Leaning Forward” - The State of the Association, 2014
Crystal City Marriott, Arlington VA - February 10, 2014
I want to take this opportunity to welcome each of you to the 2014 NASAA Winter Conference. It is great to be back in Arlington VA and in Washington DC. And what a great job by the Air Force Color Guard this morning. They represent the best military force in the world and remind us of the reason we are actually gathered here this week. Thank you.
I want to begin by thanking Vice President Dan Wellman and the Conference Planning Committee. They have done a great job of pulling this conference together and I appreciate their efforts. I also wish to thank Ms. Jenny Zavala and the staff of the Crystal City Marriot for their hospitality. We are off to a great start and I think all these folks deserve our applause.
Over 6 months ago, when you elected me your President, I shared with you my vision of a new NASAA. It was summed up in a little story about a young virile good looking astronaut that walked into a DC bar, sat down next to equally good looking young staffer and ordered her a drink. After introductions, she asked with he did and he puffed out his chest and informed her, “Oh I’m with NASA.” And she responded, “Oh wow, you work for a state approving agency!”
Well, I am not sure we are quite there yet, but I maintain we are well on the way. When I look back over this past year, I see a year of singular accomplishments amid complex challenges. But 2 building upon the strong foundation laid by your former President Chad Schatz, we dealt with those challenges leaning forward to cooperate with our partners at VA while carefully consolidating our strengths and planning positive change with our allies among the VSO’s and higher education.
By working with the VFW, the AL, NAVPA and the Student Veterans of America, we helped to pass legislation such as the Bilarakis Bill which ensured veterans received more and better information and established at least beginning safeguards against improper recruiting practices. We continued our joint work with the VA to streamline and redesign the compliance survey process and we are rolling out nationally this quarter, a method tested in a pilot study, which will result in the more efficient reporting of discrepancies to make the survey process more painless for SAA and ECCS personnel, while adjusting a veterans account more quickly. Former president Schatz, Secretary Annie Walker and I worked with the VA to bring about the implementation of the new complaint system, serving on the Executive Implementation Planning Team , and also helped in the fashioning and rollout of the new Comparison Tool. You will hear more about both of those initiatives at this conference. We also rolled the contracting process back over 4 months, so that this year, for the first time in anyone’s memory, we had a contract before the beginning of the Fiscal Year. And that contract kept the number of required compliance surveys at last years negotiated lower rate while vesting the responsibility for the approval of NCDs in state approving agencies as Congress had intended. Underneath the leadership of John Hose, our Public Affairs Officer, we produced a second edition of our annual report which will be distributed to every congressional office and published a new brochure to better explain who we are and what we do And finally, our new 70th Anniversary Committee, 3 co-chaired by Robert Haley and Dan Wellman, kicked off our celebration of that event by sending banners to every single SAA, designing a new logo and planning events throughout the coming year. And these are only a few highlights of the work your Association has and is doing.
And yet I am sure you agree with me, much remains to be done. But as I promised you in New Jersey, I and your Executive Board will not rest until the reputation of NASAA is further enhanced and the important work that SAAs accomplish on behalf of veterans is better understood. We will accomplish this first by continuing and expanding this new era of cooperation and collaboration with our friends at the VA, based upon mutual respect for our differing roles and a trust based upon our shared objective, service to veterans. Rob Worley and I are discussing a new Joint Policy Advisory Committee, JPAC, which would usher in a new era of collaboration in that we would discuss together policies impacting both organizations prior to implementation. An idea whose time has come. Also we are working with the VA contractor, CIOFFI Engineering Managment, in the hopes of coming up with a new funding formula which will ensure that all monies are expended fairly and equitably. And I encourage you to continue to share your thoughts with your representatives on the committee. But let me stop here and state to you that I have always believed that we are an association of ALL the states and I have no interest in a formula that is not fair to all states, North and South, East and West, small and large, union and right to work . And we will support no formula unless it is voted on and supported by this association. And you have my word on that!
Our legislative committee under the leadership of Chairman Skip Gebhart, will continue to position our Association as a knowledgeable resource for Congress and we will seek to both 4 clarify and codify our role as approval agencies ensuring only quality programming is approved and that schools and training establishments administer those programs as required by state and federal law.
We will continue our public affairs push to ensure leaders and lawmakers understand who we are and what we do. We are the association that ensures veterans are able to travel faster and further to places they have never been. That is not rocket science…that is where a quality education can take you. As such we will celebrate the GI Bill this year and we will continue to tell its story in the years to come.
Yes, there is much to do, but you and I have glimpsed the future. We have a window of opportunity and we must not waste it. The new leadership of VA, particularly in the person of Undersecretary Hickey, Deputy Undersecretary Curt Coy and Director Rob Worley, values what we do and respects what we represent. And so do our strong and constant allies, the American Legion, the VFW, the Student Veterans of America and the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs. Their cooperation has been real and substantial.
I would suggest to you that our best years lie ahead of us. We are NASAA. We are not mere clerks or bureaucrats. We are not just state employees drawing a federally funded check. We are educators. We are the engineers of excellence and the gatekeepers of quality. We will not fail in our commitment to safeguard the public trust, to protect the GI Bill and to defend the future of those who have so nobly defended us. I encourage you to lean forward to embrace that future and the work and sense of accomplishment that comes with it. Thank you.