Department of Education

Recommendations and Actions

ED09: Improve Employee Development Opportunities in Department of Education


Employee development frequently has been identified as an area in need of improvement in the Department of Education (ED). The General Accounting Office (GAO), in its recently published general management review of ED, concluded:

ED has been unsuccessful in developing and upgrading the skills of its current work force due to insufficient training resources. ED managers and several reports identified serious skill weaknesses in such areas as accounting, finance, analysis, writing, and management. But, throughout the 1980's, ED lagged far behind the growth in training investment in the federal government as a whole.(1)

The term employee development, as it will be used in this discussion, includes the full spectrum of activities that can potentially contribute to the career development of the individual in the workplace. Such activities as training, rotational assignments, college courses, participation on task forces, cross-training, and conference attendance are possible elements in a well-formulated employee development plan.

The employee development plan (or individual development plan) is a plan jointly developed by employee and supervisor that indicates the career development goals of the employee and the specific activities or experiences that will advance the individual toward those goals. It is a plan, not a contract. It provides a direction for the individual in the context of the organization's needs and resources to support the plan. As an illustration, a potential executive's development plan might include an assignment to a regional office (i.e., rotation) lasting several months, while an appropriate developmental activity for a mid-level employee might be a one-week training course in supervision. The gamut of possibilities for employee development ranges from on-the-job training to a year-long sabbatical. Both organizational needs and resources, as well as individual needs, must be taken into account when implementation decisions are being made regarding employee development plans.

Employee training and development in ED is provided in two ways: centrally through the department's Horace Mann Learning Center (HMLC), which offers departmentwide training in generic areas including secretarial skills, supervisory and management skills, career development, communications, contracts and grants administration, and other areas. The HMLC budget for fiscal year 1993 is $960,000, which equates to approximately $192 per employee (based on a workforce of 5,000).

Training funds are also allocated in the department's salaries and expenses (S&E) budget to each of the Principal Operating Components (POCs). These funds are generally used for technical training and conferences related to particular program areas. However, POCs have the prerogative to move funds to other categories within the S&E budget, e.g., to travel, computer services, consultants, and so on. In recent years, though the department sought higher S&E appropriations, Congress did not fully fund its requests. The overall employee development needs in ED are graphically described in the Strategic Training Plan for the department:

In addition to having to be more and more productive, we are also experiencing increased pressure for programmatic and fiscal accountability. . . . The need for fiscal and program accountability takes on additional urgency when we note that the number of contracts awarded by the Department increased by the end of 1991 a total of 147 percent from fiscal year 1986 levels and the number of grants awarded increased by a total of 53 percent from fiscal year 1984 levels. The focus on fiscal and program accountability requires a significant increase in training in financial and program management skill areas often ignored by Department employees in current training.(2)

An example of the neglect of employee development is identified in the GAO High-Risk Series report on the department's Federal Family Education Loan Program (formerly the Guaranteed Student Loan program), administered by the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE). "The Department has not had adequately trained staff, and some lacked appropriate skills. . . . Its staff have lacked experience, training, and proficient skills in finance, information systems, data analysis, planning, and policy making."(3)

According to a U.S. Office of Personnel Management report for fiscal year 1988, the ED had one of the lowest expenditures for training per employee of all agencies of comparable size.(4) GAO indicated that, from 1981 to 1989, the average expenditures for training in the federal government as a whole increased by 162 percent, while those in ED increased only 18 percent, as illustrated in Table 1.(5)

Reports from the ED regional offices and the director of ED's Horace Mann Learning Center (HMLC) indicate that training and development opportunities are even fewer for regional than for headquarters staff. The regional offices are at a particular disadvantage because they generally have fewer funds and because there are no staff with full-time training responsibilities.(6)

In their 1992 book, Putting People First: How We Can All Change America, President Clinton and Vice President Gore assert: "If America is to regain its competitiveness, we must revitalize the American workplace to increase productivity and expand opportunity." One of the many goals they set for the new administration is to provide lifetime training for all workers by requiring that every employer spend 1.5 percent of payroll for continuing education and training.(7) ED is, at present, far from attaining that goal. In 1992, the total ED payroll was $262.5 million, which would translate into an expenditure of $3.9 million for training at the 1.5 percent goal. The department's total training expenditure for 1992 was $1.7 million, less than one half of the target level. Deputy Secretary Kunin stated that the department has requested a 26 percent increase for training and skills development in the President's 1994 budget, which represents a significant increase in funding.(8)

The mission and role of the department is clearly shifting as the systemic reform movement in education gathers momentum. States and local districts are moving forward. The department still has the opportunity to play a crucial leadership role in this historic change if its staff is adequately prepared for the task. The GAO argues that if the department is to truly lead the government's reform efforts in education then "[ED] will need a skilled work force. But the department does not adequately recruit, train, or manage its human resources to ensure that workers can accomplish its mission and implement Secretarial initiatives."(9)

Further, the staffing needs in the department are changing, but there is little turnover. This means that extensive technical training and retraining is essential for ED employees. As one Acting Assistant Secretary stated: "We should ensure that staff have the skills to carry out new roles caused by reform and provide the training necessary to keep those skills current."(10) A report to the department issued during the transition between administrations argued that "significant resource commitments must be made to provide retraining opportunities for all staff."(11)

1. The Department of Education should set employee development as a priority.

Employee development should be an element in the department's strategic plan and in strategic plans within each Principal Operating Component and Regional Office. Training identified in the department's strategic plan and the strategic plans in Principal Operating Components and regions should be linked to budget requests during the annual budget preparation process.

2. The department should conduct an assessment of the training and development needs for each Principal Operating Component and Regional Office, and for each individual employee, so that future planning and budgeting can be well-grounded in data.

The department must first determine the qualifications required for each position and then determine if the individual in the position meets those qualifications. Skill gaps must be determined and individual development plans formulated. Agencywide training plans will address identified needs based on departmental priorities.

3. Managers throughout the department, including Regional Offices, should be held accountable for investing in and supporting employee development activities by including this as an element in each manager's performance plan.

The Horace Mann Learning Center will prepare regular reports to senior management on the extent to which employees in their offices have been engaged in training. Without such data, it will be hard to hold managers accountable for appropriate planning for and support for training.

4. The Horace Mann Learning Center should develop generic curriculum useful to all employees to support new directions indicated by the National Education Goals, such as performance measurement; and HMLC should develop alternative means of delivering learning services to employees, e.g., the use of distance learning and desktop personal computers.

5. Principal Operating Components should be encouraged to make use of their own internal staff expertise to provide training events for others in the department.

Some central support will be needed to stimulate and coordinate the use of ED staff in this way. The Horace Mann Learning Center should establish a formal ED Faculty program to coordinate, provide assistance, and disseminate information on the use of department staff to conduct training.

6. Employees should be encouraged to develop and implement individual development plans that indicate the skill and knowledge areas needing attention and the training and development activities that will address those areas.

7. The department should make full use of free training opportunities available through other government agencies and non-federal organizations.


Providing ED employees the knowledge and skills necessary to perform their jobs effectively will address a number of the reinvention principles. First, it will enhance customer service: state and local education agencies, as well as other grantees, and the public, as well, will benefit from the expertise of well-trained, knowledgeable department staff. Second, knowledgeable employees will be empowered to work productively, make decisions and move forward programmatically.

Fiscal Impact

Fiscal impact cannot be estimated until the department has conducted the assessment of training and development needs and determined the requirements to meet those needs. Significant gains can be made through adopting these actions without requiring additional resources.


1. U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), Department of Education: Long-Standing Management Problems Hamper Reforms (Washington, D.C.: U.S. General Accounting Office [GAO], May 1993), pp. 33-34.

2. U.S. Department of Education, "Strategic Training Plan for the Department of Education," FY 1993-1997, undated, pp. 2-3.

3. U.S. General Accounting Office, High-Risk Series: Guaranteed Student Loans (Washington, D.C.: GAO, December 1992), pp. 28-29.

4. U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Training in the Federal Service, Fiscal Year 1988 (Washington, D.C., 1987), pp. 20-21.

5. GAO, Department of Education: Long-Standing Management Problems Hamper Reforms, p. 40.

6. Interview with Dr. Terry Newell, Director, Horace Mann Learning Center, Department of Education, Washington, D.C., May 19, 1993.

7. Clinton, Bill, and Al Gore, Putting People First: How We Can All Change America (New York: Times Books, 1992), pp. 126 and 128.

8. Letter from Madeleine Kunin, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education to Philip Lader, Deputy Director for Management, U.S. Office of Management and Budget, August 6, 1993.

9. GAO, Department of Education: Long-Standing Management Problems Hamper Reforms, p. 3.

10. Memorandum from Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education, March 26, 1993, p. 1.

11. "Education Cluster Briefing Report," Washington, D.C., January 1993, p 9.

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