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Federal Training Investments: Office of Personnel Management and Agencies Can Do More to Ensure Cost-Effective Decisions

GAO-12-878 Published: Sep 17, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 2012.
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Highlights

What GAO Found

Many Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCOs) reported that they are implementing several leading practices important to making strategic decisions about training delivery, such as determining the best mix of decentralized and centralized training and considering government-wide reform when planning training. However, many CHCOs reported they are not implementing some practices that support making more cost-effective training investment decisions, such as prioritizing training so that the most important needs are met first and evaluating the benefits of training. In addition, many CHCOs do not have information from component or sub-agency leaders regarding their level of investments and priorities. Consequently, some agencies are duplicating internal across their agencies. Federal agencies also need reliable information on how much they spend on training and for what purposes. However, several CHCOs reported they do not completely and reliably track training costs agency-wide.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) provides guidance and assistance to agencies on a number of the leading practices, such as evaluating the benefits of training in three of its guides and in workshops. In some practice areas thatare challenges to agencies, such as prioritization of investments and determining whether to design training and development programs in-house or obtain these services from a contractor, guidance is minimal or absent. OPM also requires agencies to submit training investment data and provides guidance on how to do so, but considers this data to be unreliable because it is incomplete. However, OPM officials have not internally assessed improvements in the completeness of the data over the last 3 years or the quality of the data in the six years that agencies have been required to submit it, and have only provided agencies with one summary of their data for correction. Agencies and OPM reported there are also opportunities for OPM to help agencies reduce duplicative investments across agencies. For example, currently, agencies independently purchase or develop training for the same mandated or common occupational training. Agency leaders and OPM recognize that this has led to redundant and inefficient federal training investments. According to OPM officials, HR University—which is a website currently administered by OPM to provide training for the HR community—has already resulted in a cost savings of $14.5 million as a result of sharing the best HR training government-wide. Several agencies and OPM officials reported that HR University could be expanded to provide mandatory mtraining and serve as a model for centralizing training in other occupations or functional areas, which could save millions more and help standardize training.

Why GAO Did This Study

OPM and agency CHCOs play an important role in ensuring that federal training dollars are invested effectively. GAO was asked to review the extent to which: (1) CHCOs of selected federal agencies have established processes to set and prioritize training investments that are aligned with leading practices; and (2) OPM’s guidance and assistance for developing training investment strategies align with these leading practices. GAO obtained information from 27 CHCOs on their training investment practices through a questionnaire, and selected four agencies—the Departments of Energy (DOE), Homeland Security (DHS), the Interior (DOI) and Veterans Affairs (VA)—to provide illustrative examples. We compared both CHCO and OPM practices to leading practices, identified through past GAO and expert studies.

Recommendations

GAO recommends, among other things, that OPM improve guidance and assistance to agencies inestablishing a process for setting and prioritizing training investments; improve the reliability of agency training investment information; and identify the best existing courses that fulfill governmentwide training requirements, and offer them to all agencies through the HR University or other appropriate platforms. OPM fully or partially concurred with four recommendations and did not concur with a portion of another. OPM, DOI and VA provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated, as appropriate, into the report. DOE and DHS had no comments.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Office of Personnel Management To improve federal training investment decision-making processes, the Director of OPM should include in existing or new OPM guidance or technical assistance additional information in the following areas: (1) Steps agencies should take and factors they should consider when prioritizing federal training investments agency-wide, including developing a process to rank training using criteria, such as expected demand for the investment from internal sources, availability of resources to support the effort, potential for increased revenue, and risk of unfavorable consequences if investments are not made. (2) Steps agencies should take and factors they should consider for comparing the merits of different delivery mechanisms and determining the mix of mechanisms to use, in order to ensure efficient and cost-effective delivery of federal training. Such guidance could include requesting that agencies consistently utilize Standard Form-182 to document and report training costs associated with the different delivery mechanisms employed.
Open
According to OPM it has developed training prioritization criteria for agencies that also includes examples of how agencies could rank their training investments. In addition, OPM formed a working group to gain a better understanding of how agencies document, track, and report training information. The group consisted of members from USDA, EEOC, FMC, HUD, PTO, DOD, Energy, USAID, FTC, Treasury, and State. The working group recommended and OPM made changes to the SF 182 designed to help improve federal training investment decision-making. According to OPM, these changes include updating its training sub-type codes to better align with the information being collected and adding additional boxes to assist agencies with tracking group training and receiving complete information on vendors. OPM provided this update in April 2023. We contacted OPM for additional information in May and November 2023 but as of January 2024 OPM has not responded to our requests. Specifically, we asked OPM for documentation on when and how its training prioritization criteria has been disseminated to agencies and also for documentation of instances where OPM has shared good practices in this area with agencies and/or provided agencies a forum for discussing prioritization practices.
Office of Personnel Management To improve federal training investment decision-making processes, the Director of OPM should, in line with statutory and regulatory provisions on maintenance and reporting of training information, work with the CHCO Council to improve the reliability of agency training investment information by: (1) ensuring that agencies are familiar with and follow guidance outlined in OPM's Guide for the Collection and Management of Training Information regarding which training events should be documented as training and reported to OPM; (2) developing policies to strengthen the utilization of Standard Form- 182 to document and report training costs; (3) encouraging agencies through guidance and technical assistance, to develop policies that require consistent reporting of training data to their learning management systems; and (4) encouraging each agency to assess its existing training information system(s) and identify whether it is providing complete and reliable data and, if not, to develop approaches to improve the system(s), in order to do so.
Open
In response, OPM provided a refresher to the Chief Learning Officers Council on OPM's guidance on Reporting of Training Data. This included reviewing OPM's and agencies' responsibilities for the collection and reporting of data and reviewing the process of how agency data is transmitted to EHRI. Further, OPM says it highlighted the Guide to Human Resources Reporting as the source for the required format for reporting training data to EHRI and provided the Guide for Collection and Management of Training Information. Both guides are also located on OPM's website. OPM's training data report summaries encourage agencies to review their data, to check for submission errors and consistencies in reporting, and to validate that all training events are included. We contacted OPM for additional information in May and November 2023 but as of January 2024 OPM had not responded to our requests. Specifically, we asked OPM to provide documentation of OPM encouraging agencies, through guidance and/or technical assistance, to assess their reporting systems and to develop policies and procedures to help ensure accurate reporting of training data.
Office of Personnel Management To improve federal training investment decision-making processes, the Director of OPM should provide regular report summaries to agencies on Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) training investment data and its reliability, in order to improve the transparency and reliability of federal training investment data.
Closed – Implemented
On November 2, 2015, OPM officials provided a copy of its "FY 2014 Agency Data Training Report" including a cover memo and EHRI data summary. According to OPM, this report is issued annually. OPM officials told us on May 2, 2016, that OPM sent agencies their training summaries in April. They explained that this year, OPM sent a separate memo to those agencies with no FY 2015 training data. OPM provided GAO with copies of the cover memos sent to each agency grouping.
Office of Personnel Management To improve federal training investment decision-making processes, the Director of OPM should, once federal training data reliability has been sufficiently improved, consistent with Executive Order No. 11348, use EHRI data to: a) counsel heads of agencies and other agency officials on the improvement of training, and b) assist agencies in developing sound programs and financial plans for training and provide advice, information, and assistance to agencies on planning and budgeting training programs.
Closed – Implemented
According to an OPM email to GAO dated August 22, 2016, OPM is providing agencies their fiscal year training data report summaries regularly and notifying and meeting with agencies to address training data deficiencies. According to OPM, the training data report summaries are prompting agencies to review their training data and ensure EHRI has complete training records. Previously on November 2, 2015, OPM officials provided a copy of its "FY 2014 Agency Data Training Report" including a cover memo and EHRI data summary. OPM officials told us on May 2, 2016, that OPM sent agencies their training summaries in April. They explained that this year, OPM sent a separate memo to those agencies with FY 2015 training data. OPM provided GAO with copies of the cover memos sent to each agency grouping.
Office of Personnel Management To improve federal training investment decision-making processes, the Director of OPM should, in collaboration with the CHCO and Chief Learning Officer (CLO) Councils, identify the best existing courses that fulfill government-wide training requirements, such as mandatory Equal Employment Opportunity training, or training in common federal occupations, such as basic training in financial management, and offer them to all agencies through HR University or other appropriate platform to reduce costly and duplicative federal training investments.
Closed – Implemented
On August 22, 2016, OPM officials provided a document that stated that OPM continues to identify courses that will fulfill government wide training. According to the document, OPM and the Department of Justice developed the Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking training as a resource for agencies and the course is now available on HR U.

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Human capital managementFederal agenciesEmployee trainingHuman capitalInternal controlsStrategic planningTraining utilizationEmployee developmentBest practicesTechnical assistance