The Government Employees Training Act (GETA) of 1958 authorizes agencies to manage their own training, determine their own training needs, and select and fund training to meet those needs. The Volcker Commission offered the following assessment of agency effectiveness in exercising that authority:
Federal training is suffering from an identity crisis. Agencies are not sure what they should train for (short-term or long-term), who should get the lion's share of resources (entry level or senior level), when employees need additional education (once a year or more often), and whether mid-career education is of value. . . . Career paths are poorly designed, executive succession is accidental and unplanned, and real-time training for pressured managers is virtually nonexistent. At both the career and presidential level, training is all-too-often ad hoc and self-initiated.(1)
To strengthen training in government, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) assumed a more active leadership role and, in 1992, developed a series of human resource development policy initiatives including requirements for comprehensive training needs assessment, employee orientation, and management development.
In the high-performing organization, training is seen as an investment in a strategic resource and thus is funded to the extent required for achievement of organizational mission; these excellent organizations are often called "learning organizations." The ideal training program is designed to improve individual and organizational performance. Training must be based on a careful needs assessment and rigorously evaluated to ensure that it is cost-effective. Based on a training needs assessment, one or more tools may be selected to help employees, individually or in teams, develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities they need to improve performance. Some of the more common learning methodologies include coaching, counseling, on-the- job training, developmental job assignments, computer-based instruction, job aids, expert systems, independent study, and classroom instruction.
Need for Change
Training is not always seen primarily as a tool for improving individual and organizational performance; GETA cites "increasing economy and efficiency in the Government" as the purpose of training. GETA places a series of limitations on use of training from non- governmental sources, which results in regulations on how training is to be managed. Limitations appropriate in 1958, when training was in its infancy in both government and the private sector, are no longer relevant. GETA requires that training be related to the official duties of an employee, which has been interpreted by some to preclude retraining and multi-skilling of government employees. Training is too frequently ad hoc and employee-originated, and seldom linked to strategic or human resource planning. Information for more strategic management of training is generally not available. Managers generally are not able to determine the effectiveness of or the return on their investment in training. Interagency training is frequently perceived by agency managers as not responsive to their needs and too costly when compared to other sources of training.
Many observers believe that training in the federal government is inadequately funded; the Volcker Commission found that in 1989 the government spent "about three-quarters of 1 percent of its payroll dollars on civilian training, compared with 3 to 5 percent in the most effective private firms."(2) Training is usually seen as a cost, not an investment. Training costs are not generally included in cost estimates for new systems or programs, and usually are not a part of the budget process. Training is too often a quick fix even though it may not be the best solution to a performance problem or the best way to impart knowledge about a regulation or requirement. Training is frequently seen as something that happens only in the classroom, and, as a result, other methods for improving performance such as job aids, expert systems, on-the-job training, coaching, mentoring, developmental work assignments, job redesign, and computer-based instruction are not considered.
1. Deregulate training and make it more responsive to market sources. (3)
The director of OPM should submit draft legislation to Congress by January 1994 that would amend GETA to:
--- identify the objective of training: improvement of individual and organizational performance,
--- change the requirement that training be related to performance of official duties to relate it to mission achievement, and
--- eliminate the distinction between government and non-government training.
Clarifying the purpose of training in GETA will strengthen the emphasis on performance improvement and results. Linking training to the mission of the department or agency rather than the official duties of the employee will facilitate retraining and multi-skilling during a period of transition and change. Removing the distinction between government and non-government training will help deregulate training and make it more responsive to market forces.
2. Give agencies the flexibility to use savings realized from reinvention to increase their investment in employee training and development. (1)
Agencies are encouraged to invest part of the savings resulting from implementation of National Performance Review recommendations and actions in training and development of employees, supervisors, and managers to support further reinvention and change. Training funded in this manner might include quality improvement, benchmarking, performance measurement, customer service, reengineering and leading/managing change. Training could also be provided to help employees acquire the knowledge and skills they need to do their current jobs better, or retrain them for different jobs.
Authorizing agencies to use savings resulting from reinvention to finance employee training and development provides additional incentive for reinvention, increases the funds available to invest in employee training, and helps ensure that the federal workforce becomes more effective and productive.
Cross References to Other NPR Accompanying Reports
Creating Quality Leadership and Management, QUAL02: Improve Government Performance through Strategic and Quality Management; and QUAL03: Strengthen the Corps of Senior Leaders.
Improving Regulatory Systems, REG10: Provide Better Training and Incentives for Regulators.
Reengineering Through Information Technology, IT13: Provide Training and Technical Assistance in Information Technology to Federal Employees.
Rethinking Program Design, DES04: Commission Program Design Courses.
Transforming Organizational Structures, ORG01: Reduce the Costs and Numbers of Positions Associated with Management Control Structures by Half.
1. The National Commission on the Public Service, Leadership for America: Rebuilding the Public Service (Washington, D.C., 1989), p. 43.
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