Information Technology:

Training Can Be Enhanced by Greater Use of Leading Practices

GAO-04-791: Published: Jun 24, 2004. Publicly Released: Jul 26, 2004.

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David A. Powner
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Effective training of information technology (IT) staff, as called for in the E-Government (E-Gov) Act of 2002, is essential to developing and retaining a qualified workforce. In an earlier report (GAO-03-390), we identified 22 leading practices, grouped into 5 key training management processes, used by private-sector companies to implement effective IT training. These practices suggest approaches that government agencies could consider. To assess IT training in the federal government, including its use of leading practices, we were asked to determine, among other things, to what extent federal agencies use our leading practices, the major obstacles in providing effective IT training and how agencies address them, and the progress the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is making in issuing policies and performing evaluations to encourage agencies to provide effective IT training.

Although federal agencies differ widely in how much IT training they provide, their use of the 22 leading IT training practices that we identified was generally not extensive. Of these practices, only 5 were in use to a great or very great extent in a majority of agencies. In particular, of the three practices we identified in the area of evaluating training, none was widely used. For example, for the practice of collecting information on how job performance is affected by training, only three agencies reported use to a great or very great extent. The most commonly cited obstacles to effective IT training were funding and the time training takes away from work. To address these obstacles, agencies are looking at ways to reduce training time and costs--for example, by greater use of e-learning. OPM has made limited progress in issuing policies or performing evaluations regarding IT training. The E-Gov Act sets requirements for agency IT training programs. To provide oversight, it requires OPM to issue policies to promote the development of performance standards for training, and to evaluate agency implementation of the act's IT training provisions. These policies are particularly important in view of the lack of extensive agency use of the evaluation practices we identified. OPM has begun drafting guidance, but it has not issued policies or evaluated agency implementation of the act. Until policies are issued and progress is measured, oversight of federal IT training will continue to fall short of what the act calls for.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Director, OPM, issued a memorandum on January 31, 2005, to chief human capital officers setting out policies for development of training standards. The memo cites SI's Guide for Assessing Strategic Training as a reference in regard to performing assessments.

    Recommendation: As part of OPM's oversight responsibilities under the E-Gov Act, the Director of OPM should issue government-wide IT training policies, consistent with our strategic training guide, that promote development of performance standards for training and encourage agencies to use the leading practices that we identified.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: OPM has not set milestones for evaluating agencies' implementation of the E-Gov Act's information technology (IT) training provisions. The act calls for agencies to have IT training programs that (a) have curricula covering a broad range of information technology disciplines; (b) are developed and applied according to rigorous standards; and (c) are designed to maximize efficiency through the use of such measures as self-paced courses, online courses, and on-the-job training. OPM could not provide any evidence that it has established milestones for evaluating agencies' implementation of these three provisions.

    Recommendation: As part of OPM's oversight responsibilities under the E-Gov Act, the Director of OPM should set specific milestones for evaluating agency implementation of the provisions cited above.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management


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