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entitled 'Department Of State: Additional Steps Are Needed to Improve 
Strategic Planning and Evaluation of Training for State Personnel' 
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United States Government Accountability Office: 


Before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the 
Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, Committee on Homeland 
Security and Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate: 

For Release on Delivery: 
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EST: 
Tuesday, March 8, 2011: 

Department Of State: 

Additional Steps Are Needed to Improve Strategic Planning and 
Evaluation of Training for State Personnel: 

Statement of Jess T. Ford, Director:
International Affairs and Trade: 


Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

I am pleased to be here today to discuss the U.S. Department of 
State's (State) efforts to train its personnel. My testimony is based 
on our report, which is being released today.[Footnote 1] Because 
State is the lead U.S. foreign affairs agency, its personnel require 
certain knowledge, skills, and abilities to equip them to address the 
global security threats and challenges facing the United States--
including the threat of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, 
HIV/AIDS and other pandemics, environmental degradation, nuclear 
proliferation, and failed states. In fiscal years 2006 through 2010, 
State's funding for training personnel grew by about 62 percent, and 
the department requested more than $266 million in fiscal year 2011 
for programs providing training in professional skills such as foreign 
language proficiency, area studies, information technology, consular 
duties, and others needed for the conduct of foreign relations. 
[Footnote 2] State's Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is the primary 
training provider for the department's more than 66,000 Foreign 
Service, civil service, and locally employed staff worldwide.[Footnote 

Our prior work has identified staffing and foreign language shortfalls 
at State, including challenges the department has faced in filling 
positions at the mid-level in particular, and in attracting qualified 
personnel for some hardship posts.[Footnote 4] The department is 
currently in the midst of what it has called the most challenging 
military-to-civilian transition in U.S. history in Iraq, one of the 
posts of greatest hardship where State personnel serve. Recent 
departmental initiatives--in particular, "Diplomacy 3.0," a multiyear 
effort launched in March 2009 with a primary aim of increasing the 
size of State's Foreign Service by 25 percent and the civil service by 
13 percent--have underscored the importance of training to equip 
personnel to fulfill State's leadership role in world affairs and to 
advance and defend U.S. interests abroad. 

Today I will discuss State's purpose and structure for training 
personnel, including leadership, management, professional, and area 
studies training, contributing to diplomatic readiness of State's 
Foreign Service and civil service personnel and locally employed staff 
overseas. I will also discuss the extent to which State's personnel 
training incorporates elements of effective federal training programs. 
[Footnote 5] 

Over the course of our work on this issue, we reviewed and analyzed 
data and documentation related to State's training efforts, such as 
strategic and workforce planning documents, funding data, and data on 
personnel participation in training, as well as legislative, 
regulatory, and State policy and procedural criteria relevant to 
training. In addition, we reviewed training evaluation mechanisms used 
by FSI. We interviewed key officials from 26 State bureaus and offices 
in Washington, D.C., including FSI, the Bureau of Human Resources, and 
the six geographic bureaus. We also conducted semistructured telephone 
interviews with State officials with training-related responsibilities 
at 12 overseas missions, and interviewed officials from State's 
regional training centers located in Bangkok, Thailand; Ft. 
Lauderdale, Florida; and Frankfurt, Germany. With input from State, we 
completed a training assessment to determine the extent to which the 
department's personnel training incorporates elements of effective 
training programs. We used the results of this assessment to identify 
any gaps in State's training based on criteria identified in GAO, the 
Office of Personnel Management (OPM), State, and other legislative and 
regulatory guidance and policy. In addition, in light of work that we 
recently published on shortfalls in State personnel's foreign language 
skills[Footnote 6], we did not focus on language training. We also did 
not include within our scope an assessment of "hard skills" (e.g., 
security and law enforcement) training provided by State's Bureau of 
Diplomatic Security. We conducted this performance audit from July 
2009 to January 2011 in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform 
the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a 
reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit 
objectives. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a 
reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit 
objectives. More information on our scope and methodology and detailed 
findings is available in the full report.[Footnote 7] 

In brief, Mr. Chairman, we found that State has taken many steps to 
incorporate the interrelated elements of an effective training 
program--planning, design, implementation, and evaluation--into its 
training for personnel,[Footnote 8] but the department's strategic 
approach to workforce training could be improved in several key areas. 
Specifically, we identified five areas where State can improve its 
training. First, State lacks a comprehensive training needs assessment 
process incorporating all bureaus and posts. Second, State developed 
guidance for employees about training opportunities, career paths, and 
how training can help employees attain career goals, but the guidance 
does not provide complete and accurate information. Third, State lacks 
a data collection and analysis plan for evaluating training, and thus 
cannot be assured that proper practices and procedures are 
systematically and comprehensively applied. Fourth, State could not 
sufficiently demonstrate consistent and appropriate support for 
training, because the department does not track detailed information 
on training cost and delivery that would allow for an analysis and 
comparison of employees in different groups, bureaus, regions, or 
posts. Lastly, State performance measures for training generally do 
not fully address training goals, and are generally output-rather than 

State's Annual Training Plan states that "the purpose of the 
department's training program is to develop the men and women our 
nation requires to fulfill our leadership role in world affairs and to 
advance and defend U.S. interests." FSI is State's primary training 
provider, offering entry-, mid-, and senior-level training for 
employees as they progress through their careers. State guidance 
outlines key training roles, including FSI's primary role in 
developing training policies and facilitating necessary training, and 
the Bureau of Human Resource's role in assigning employees to training 
and working with FSI to help ensure it meets their needs. Other 
bureaus, offices, and posts also share responsibilities for training. 
FSI offers over 700 classroom courses, and has recently increased its 
focus on distance learning. We found that overall, about 40 percent of 
personnel training over the last 5 fiscal years, on average, was in 
foreign language skills. Other training for personnel generally 
focused on developing leadership, management, and other professional 
and technical skills and knowledge. 

State's personnel training reflects numerous aspects of effective 
training programs, based on our assessment using the criteria GAO 
previously identified. For example, State maintains a workforce 
training plan, as required by federal regulations.[Footnote 9] FSI 
leads efforts to prepare the plan annually; the plan is linked to 
State's overall strategic plan, and presents a business case for 
proposed training investments. FSI also publishes an annual schedule 
of courses, which provides information for employees on FSI classroom 
and distance learning course offerings. The schedule of courses 
generally includes information for each course such as a brief 
description, any prerequisites, course objectives, and relevant 
competencies. As another example of a positive practice, State has 
made an effort to use advances in technologies to enhance training 
efforts. The number of distance learning offerings, as well as 
employee participation in distance learning, has increased in recent 
years. For example, State's latest annual training plan reported that 
FSI developed 20 new custom distance learning courses during the prior 
year, and data showed time spent by personnel completing distance 
learning courses more than doubled from fiscal years 2006 through 
2009--from about 113,000 hours in fiscal year 2006 to about 254,000 in 
fiscal year 2009. In addition, we found that State has a range of 
training evaluation mechanisms in place, including mid-and post-
training course evaluations. Since 2006, FSI has conducted an annual 
training survey. FSI reported most respondents to the 2010 survey 
were, in general, satisfied or very satisfied with training.[Footnote 

However, although State has developed an extensive program for 
training personnel, our analysis found several gaps in the 
department's efforts to strategically plan and prioritize training, 
ensure efficient and effective training design and delivery, and 
determine whether or how training and development efforts contribute 
to improved performance and desired results. Each of the issue areas 
we identified broadly relates to multiple elements, attributes, and 
indicators throughout the interrelated training and development 
process. While an agency's training program is not necessarily 
expected to address every indicator identified in the GAO guidance, 
based on our assessment, we identified strategic weaknesses related to 
these areas as particularly important to ensuring effective planning, 
design, implementation, and evaluation of personnel training. 

For example, we found that: 

* State lacks a systematic, comprehensive training needs assessment 
process incorporating all bureaus and overseas posts. Since 2007, 
State human resource reports noted that bureaus have not formally 
conducted annual training needs assessments, and identified this as an 
issue that should be addressed to help provide a realistic basis for 
planning, budgeting, and directing training. According to the reports, 
the Bureau of Human Resources intended to form an interoffice working 
group to develop a comprehensive plan and implementation guidance to 
support a department-wide effort for assessing training needs. 
However, State had not yet formed an interoffice working group as of 
November 2010. 

* State developed guidance--known as training continuums--to provide 
information for employees about training opportunities, career ladders 
and paths, and how training can help employees attain career goals, 
but the guidance documents do not provide complete and accurate 
information for employees. While the documents state that they were 
designed to provide a broad overview of appropriate training that 
should be considered as employees plan their careers in the 
department, including information on mandatory, recommended, and 
suggested courses, we found issues that raised questions about their 
usefulness and reliability as employee resources. For example, we 
found that specific training requirements designated by bureaus and 
posts for certain groups of employees are not always identified in the 
training guidance. A key official from FSI's executive office 
acknowledged that the guidance documents do not include complete and 
accurate information for employees on training, and noted that the 
documents have not been reviewed to ensure they uniformly reflect 
departmental policies or standards. 

* State has not developed a data collection and analysis plan for 
evaluating training, which could help ensure that appropriate 
procedures and criteria for evaluating training are systematically 
applied across the board. As a result, it is not clear whether or how 
State systematically makes decisions regarding how training programs 
will be evaluated using different methods or tools, or how results 
will be used. Our prior work highlights the importance of planning and 
conducting evaluations of the effectiveness of training and 
development efforts and notes that a data collection and analysis plan 
can set priorities for evaluations and systematically cover the 
methods, timing, and responsibilities for an agency's data collection. 
[Footnote 11] While State has implemented mechanisms to evaluate 
training, including course evaluations and an annual training survey, 
these mechanisms do not fully incorporate locally employed staff, and 
primarily focus on participant satisfaction or reaction to training, 
rather than desired results, such as improved quality or efficiency of 

* State could not sufficiently demonstrate consistent and appropriate 
support for training, because it does not track detailed data and 
information on training cost and delivery that would allow for an 
analysis and comparison of employees in different employee groups, 
bureaus, regions, and posts. For example, State could not provide data 
on the percentage of foreign affairs or political officers that had 
completed required, recommended, or suggested training for their areas 
of work. Although State tracks some data related to training funding 
and delivery, the department does not have sufficient information that 
could be used to ensure consistent and appropriate support for 
training, or to help determine whether managers and employees have 
needed training tools and resources. This is especially important 
given evidence of variances in training across the department. For 
example, while training officials we interviewed at some bureaus and 
posts indicated they had sufficient funding and support for training, 
others noted they faced significant resource challenges that impacted 
the ability of employees to get necessary training. 

* State has developed several training-related goals and measures, but 
the measures do not fully address the goals, and are generally output 
rather than outcome oriented. As a result, they do not provide a clear 
means of determining whether State's training efforts achieve desired 
results. For example, one training goal listed in FSI's fiscal year 
2012 strategic resource plan, "workforce meets priority diplomatic and 
operational requirements as a result of FSI training," includes 
priorities and objectives to expand and enhance language training, 
support training in stability operations, support new hire training, 
and enhance public diplomacy training. However, the goal's two 
measures, "language training success rate at FSI," and "development of 
training continuum to support State's Office of Reconstruction and 
Stabilization," are both output measures and do not fully address the 
priority areas for the goal, such as support for new hire training or 
public diplomacy training. 

State's budget and focus on training have increased in recent years, 
but the department has also faced, and will likely continue to face, 
fluctuating and constrained resources and competing priorities when 
determining what training is critical to its mission. Without 
concerted efforts to further incorporate effective practices, State 
cannot ensure training resources are targeted strategically, are not 
wasted, and achieve cost-effective and timely results desired, and 
thus cannot be assured that its employees are trained and equipped to 
meet the challenges of their mission. 

Our report being issued today includes several recommendations for the 
Secretary of State to improve strategic planning and evaluation of the 
department's efforts to train personnel, including for improvements to 
State's efforts to assess training needs and efforts to ensure 
training achieves desired results. State generally agreed with our 
findings and recommendations. 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be pleased 
to respond to any questions you or other Members of the Subcommittee 
may have at this time. 

GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

For questions regarding this testimony, please contact Jess T. Ford, 
(202)512-4268 or In addition to the contact named 
above, Anthony Moran, Assistant Director; Lisa Helmer; Shirley Min; 
Joe Carney; Virginia Chanley; Kieran Cusack; David Dayton; Patrick 
Lockett; Reid Lowe; and Mary Moutsos provided significant 
contributions to the work. Contact points for our offices of 
Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last 
page of this testimony. 

[End of section] 


[1] GAO, State Department: Additional Steps Are Needed to Improve 
Strategic Planning and Evaluation of Training for State Personnel, 
[hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: 
January 2011). 

[2] According to State, the total number of Foreign Service, civil 
service, and locally employed personnel increased from about 57,000 in 
September 2006 to more than 66,000 as of September 2010, an increase 
of about 17 percent. 

[3] State's locally employed staff include foreign nationals and U.S. 
citizen residents employed via direct-hire appointments, personal 
services agreements, or personal services contracts. 

[4] See GAO, State Department: Persistent Staffing and Foreign 
Language Gaps Compromise Diplomatic Readiness, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: September 
24, 2009); and State Department: Staffing and Foreign Language 
Shortfalls Persist Despite Initiatives to Address Gaps, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: August 1, 

[5] We previously developed guidance for assessing federal strategic 
training and development efforts, including identifying four essential 
and interrelated elements of the training and development process: (1) 
planning, (2) design, (3) implementation, and (4) evaluation. The 
guidance includes key attributes of effective federal training 
programs to consider when assessing each of the four elements, along 
with indicators related to each attribute. This guidance can be used 
to identify potential gaps or areas where improvements may be made to 
help ensure that training and development investments are targeted 
strategically and not wasted on efforts that are irrelevant, 
duplicative, or ineffective. GAO, Human Capital: A Guide for Assessing 
Strategic Training and Development Efforts in the Federal Government, 
[hyperlink,] (Washington, 
D.C.: Mar. 1, 2004). 

[6] GAO, Department of State: Comprehensive Plan Needed to Address 
Persistent Foreign Language Shortfalls, [hyperlink,] (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 17, 
2009). Our latest report notes that according to State, the department 
has taken several steps to address prior GAO recommendations related 
to language training needs and challenges, such as developing an 
analytical model to better assess resource needs, including training, 
to meet language requirements, and implementing mechanisms to ensure a 
strategic approach to addressing foreign language needs. 

[7] [hyperlink,]. 

[8] [hyperlink,]. 

[9] 5 C.F.R. § 410.201. 

[10] According to State, the 2010 annual training survey was sent to a 
random sample of 5,105 Foreign Service and civil service employees, as 
well as eligible family members. Among other things, the survey asked 
respondents to rate FSI's training delivery methods, training 
programs, and customer service. We determined that the results of this 
survey were sufficiently reliable to provide a general indication of 
employee satisfaction with training. 

[11] Such a plan could also include guidelines to help ensure the 
agency makes an ongoing effort to improve the quality and breadth of 
data gathered. Our prior work also noted that developing and using 
such a plan can guide an agency in a systematic approach to assessing 
the effectiveness and efficiency of both specific training and 
development programs and more comprehensively assessing its entire 
training and development effort. [hyperlink,]. 

[End of section] 

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