Reengineering Through Information Technology

Recommendations and Actions

IT13: Provide Training and Technical Assistance in Information Technology to Federal Employees

People Helping People Cope with Technology

Every year, increasing numbers of federal workers are expected to use information technology (IT) skills and knowledge in performing their jobs. However, many members of the federal workforce lack sufficient training and background to use new technologies effectively, and many managers fail to realize the importance of IT training. Compared with private industry, the federal government invests few dollars and little time in IT training and retraining.[1] Without this investment, the federal workforce is unable to keep pace with the rapid changes in technology and improved methods of customer service. Federal agencies rely on information technology and are increasingly dependent on the skills and capabilities of their workforce to enhance productivity and ensure quality service to the American public. Yet they provide insufficient incentives to their workforce to seek IT education and training as well as insufficient opportunities to obtain training--even when it is desired and necessary--and do not generally incorporate IT training in their strategic mission planning.

The cost of insufficient or no training in information technology is significant. In a worst-case scenario, people do not use their computers at all, and the organization's investment in hardware and software is wasted. In a less extreme circumstance, every time a user relies on a formal support function rather than performing IT work on his or her own, the organization pays at least $25 in overhead and salaried time. Every time a user asks a coworker for help, it costs from $15 to $100.[2]

Need for Change

Modest changes could improve the knowledge and skills of the federal workforce. Skills enhancement efforts at all levels of the federal workforce are crucial, because IT is a fundamental enabler of organizational change. IT awareness must also be improved at all levels of the federal workforce to encourage and support continuing reinvention efforts.

Senior managers have not developed the kind of experience and expertise in IT that they have in finance, human resources, and accounting.[3] At a minimum, they need a basic knowledge of how to ensure the development and use of management information systems and other technological resources that meet their agency's needs.[4] Recently, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) began working with a task force of senior executives to refine Senior Executive Service (SES) qualifications to better match the competencies and skills identified in the recent update of the SES Management Excellence Framework.[5] There is a need to address IT competency in this effort, as well as ensure that it is made a part of the SES recertification program. Including IT competency in the SES recertification program will emphasize IT as an integral part of the continuous and comprehensive learning organization. In order to provide basic knowledge, an IT course should provide insight on how to integrate technology into the workplace, include development strategies for using new technology to manage and improve program effectiveness, and explain the impact of technological changes on the organization.

The General Accounting Office recommends that an agency's senior official for information resources management (IRM) play a leading role in defining and preparing the agency's technology plan, and then ensure that the ongoing and proposed systems development projects fall logically within this plan. Federal IRM leaders need to be highly competent individuals with the appropriate background and capabilities to administer IRM programs and manage IRM resources.

The federal government lacks a mechanism that would allow an end user to receive on-the-spot assistance with simple IT questions regarding hardware configuration, new technologies, application software packages, and information resources needed to perform various program and administrative responsibilities. Throughout the workforce there are individuals who have both the expertise and desire to assist colleagues in solving such problems. There is a need for a support system that can be institutionalized as a network of individuals with specific skill sets available to help colleagues via electronic (e.g., bulletin boards, e-mail, on-line databases, etc.) or personal interaction. These individuals can function as on-line pals to provide agencies with help- desk functions where none presently exist and to diffuse innovation.

The federal government spends billions of dollars each year in IT contracts and acquisitions. A majority of the contracts and acquisitions do not include training provisions in the initial design stages; as a result this places a tremendous burden on the overall agency training budget.


1. Establish a program to train nontechnical senior executives and political appointees in information technology. (2)

By June 1994, the Government Information Technology Services Working Group should direct OPM and the General Services Administration (GSA) to jointly develop and administer a training program, which should begin by September 1994. OPM and GSA should consult with each agency on the program development and implementation strategies at the agency level. The program can be delivered as a series of executive technology seminars implemented through "centers of excellence" such as the Information Resource Management College of the National Defense University, the Federal Executive Institute, or a university. The program could be modeled after the New York City Department of Personnel's Executive Development Program, which consists of monthly half-day sessions on a variety of sophisticated IT and management topics, including strategic planning/top-down planning, reengineering, implementing systems, electronic mail, video conferencing, voice- enhanced technologies, geographic information systems, database management systems, imaging, and multi-agency complaint and inspection systems.

Program participants should develop a clear understanding of how their organization can benefit from information technology; learn effective uses of IT--particularly in the federal sector; and intensify their commitment to using, managing, and implementing IT. Program topics could include IT acquisition and implementation, principles of organizational change and the impact of new technologies, customer service, and the role of technology in stimulating service redesign. In addition, the program should provide an opportunity for executives to share their experiences in IT implementation with their peers.

2. Require "minimum competency" in information technology for Senior Executive Service candidates. (1)

Agencies and OPM, by September 1994, should jointly require that candidates demonstrate a minimum competency in IT prior to their appointment in the SES. Specifically, candidates should be able to (1) integrate technology into the workplace, (2) develop strategies using new technology to manage and improve program effectiveness, and (3) understand the impact of technological changes on the organization.[6]

Agencies and OPM should also require that IT competency be included in the SES recertification program. The standard for IT competency in SES recertification should include the development and use of management information systems and other technological resources to meet an agency "s current and future needs.

3. Require IRM managers to meet certification standards. (1)

OPM and GSA should identify IRM competencies and skills requirements for IRM managers, establish an IRM Executive Institute to provide needed management training, and identify programs or centers of excellence for implementation. All federal employees pursuing an appointment to an IRM management position should be required to complete a 2-year IRM management training program or demonstrate mastery of competencies before receiving their appointment.

The first training program should begin by September 1994. It should consist of courses and seminars tailored to achieve the individual IT needs of each agency. The program should provide a clear vision of how an organization can benefit from information technology and provide the skills needed to develop an agencywide IRM management strategic plan that is linked to overall agency goals and objectives. In addition, the program should build the competency required to manage major IT acquisitions of general purpose data processing and telecommunications systems, facilities, and related services. Various components of the IRM Executive Institute could partner with programs such as GSA's Trail Boss Program, the Federal Acquisition Institute, and/or the centers of excellence listed in action 1.

4. Promote collegial assistance for IT. (1)

Each agency head should develop a mechanism for identifying individuals with varying levels of IT expertise who wish to participate as on-line pals. The existing Federal Information Resources Management Policy Council (FIRMPoC) should be responsible for coordinating the governmentwide collegial assistance program.[7] This program should be developed by December 1994.

5. Include training as part of all information technology contracts and acquisitions. (1)

By January 1995, each agency' IT contracts or acquisitions in the early stages of development, and all future acquisitions and contracts, should include a provision for training. Cross References to Other NPR Accompanying Reports Reinventing Human Resource Management, HRM06: Clearly Define the Objective of Training as the Improvement of Individual and Organizational Performance; Make Training More Market- Driven.


1. Kendrick, James E., "IT Management Focus Must Extend Beyond Tip of the Iceberg: In Perspective: How Government Information Technology Management Can Improve Cost-Effective Performance," Federal Computer Week (September. 21, 1992), p. 17.

2. Masie, Elliot, and Rebekah Wolman, The Computer Training Handbook: How to Teach People to Use Computers (Raquette, NY: National Training & Computers Project, 1989), p. 12.

3. Keen, Peter G.W., Shaping the Future: Business Design through Information Technology (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1991), p. 9.

4. U.S. General Accounting Office, Information Management and Technology Division, "Meeting the Government's Technology Challenge: Results of a GAO Symposium," ebruary 1990, pp. 5-6.

5. Roehmer, Susan, Office of Executive and Management Policy Human Resources Development Group, Office of Personnel Management, "Senior Executive Service Executive/Managerial Qualifications," FPM Letter 920, Washington, D.C., Exhibit 5-A.

6. These qualifications, needed for technology management, were identified under the "technology management" competency in Office of Personnel Management, Human Resources Development Group, "Leadership Effectiveness Survey," October 1991.

7. The FIRMPoC comprises the senior agency IRM officials, and it meets regularly to discuss policy and program issues, provide advice to the General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget, and share other information of mutual interest.

Return To Report Index

Who We Are |||Latest Additions |||Initiatives |||Customer Service |||News Room |||Accomplishments |||Awards |||"How To" Tools |||Library |||Web Links

Reinvention Comments
Technical Comments