Department of State:

Additional Steps Are Needed to Improve Strategic Planning and Evaluation of Training for State Personnel

GAO-11-438T: Published: Mar 8, 2011. Publicly Released: Mar 8, 2011.

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Jess T. Ford
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contact@gao.gov

 

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This testimony discusses the U.S. Department of State's (State) efforts to train its personnel. It is based on our report, which is being released today. Because State is the lead U.S. foreign affairs agency, its personnel require certain knowledge, skills, and abilities to equip them to address the global security threats and challenges facing the United States--including the threat of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, HIV/AIDS and other pandemics, environmental degradation, nuclear proliferation, and failed states. In fiscal years 2006 through 2010, State's funding for training personnel grew by about 62 percent, and the department requested more than $266 million in fiscal year 2011 for programs providing training in professional skills such as foreign language proficiency, area studies, information technology, consular duties, and others needed for the conduct of foreign relations. State's Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is the primary training provider for the department's more than 66,000 Foreign Service, civil service, and locally employed staff worldwide. Our prior work has identified staffing and foreign language shortfalls at State, including challenges the department has faced in filling positions at the mid-level in particular, and in attracting qualified personnel for some hardship posts. The department is currently in the midst of what it has called the most challenging military-to-civilian transition in U.S. history in Iraq, one of the posts of greatest hardship where State personnel serve. Recent departmental initiatives--in particular, "Diplomacy 3.0," a multiyear effort launched in March 2009 with a primary aim of increasing the size of State's Foreign Service by 25 percent and the civil service by 13 percent--have underscored the importance of training to equip personnel to fulfill State's leadership role in world affairs and to advance and defend U.S. interests abroad. Today's testimony will discuss State's purpose and structure for training personnel, including leadership, management, professional, and area studies training, contributing to diplomatic readiness of State's Foreign Service and civil service personnel and locally employed staff overseas. It will also discuss the extent to which State's personnel training incorporates elements of effective federal training programs.

We found that State has taken many steps to incorporate the interrelated elements of an effective training program--planning, design, implementation, and evaluation--into its training for personnel, but the department's strategic approach to workforce training could be improved in several key areas. Specifically, we identified five areas where State can improve its training. First, State lacks a comprehensive training needs assessment process incorporating all bureaus and posts. Second, State developed guidance for employees about training opportunities, career paths, and how training can help employees attain career goals, but the guidance does not provide complete and accurate information. Third, State lacks a data collection and analysis plan for evaluating training, and thus cannot be assured that proper practices and procedures are systematically and comprehensively applied. Fourth, State could not sufficiently demonstrate consistent and appropriate support for training, because the department does not track detailed information on training cost and delivery that would allow for an analysis and comparison of employees in different groups, bureaus, regions, or posts. Lastly, State performance measures for training generally do not fully address training goals, and are generally output-rather than outcome-oriented.

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