Department of Homeland Security:

Strategic Management of Training Important for Successful Transformation

GAO-05-888: Published: Sep 23, 2005. Publicly Released: Sep 23, 2005.

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Training can play a key role in helping the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) successfully address the challenge of transformation and cultural change and help ensure that its workforce possesses the knowledge and skills needed to effectively respond to current and future threats. This report discusses (1) how DHS is addressing or planning to address departmentwide training and the related challenges it is encountering; (2) examples of how DHS training practices, specifically those related to planning and evaluation, reflect strategic practices; and (3) examples of how DHS uses training to foster transformation and cultural change.

DHS has taken several positive steps toward establishing an effective departmentwide approach to training, yet significant challenges remain. Progress made in addressing departmentwide training issues, but efforts are still in the early stages and face several challenges. Actions taken by DHS include issuing its first training strategic plan in July 2005, establishing training councils and groups to increase communication across components, and directly providing training for specific departmentwide needs. However, several challenges may impede DHS from achieving its departmental training goals. First, the sharing of training information across components is made more difficult by the lack of common or compatible information management systems and a commonly understood training terminology. Second, authority and accountability relationships between the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer and organizational components are not sufficiently clear. Third, DHS's planning may be insufficiently detailed to ensure effective and coordinated implementation of departmentwide training efforts. Finally, according to training officials, DHS lacks resources needed to implement its departmental training strategy. Examples of planning and evaluation of training demonstrate some elements of strategic practice. Specific training practices at both the component and departmental levels may provide useful models or insights to help others in DHS adopt a more strategic approach to training. We found that some components of DHS apply these practices, while others do not. For example, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) aligns training priorities with strategic goals through planning and budgeting processes. In the area of evaluation, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center obtains feedback from both the trainee and the trainee's job supervisor to inform training program designers in order to make improvements to the program curriculum. Training has been used to help DHS's workforce as it undergoes transformation and cultural change. The creation of DHS from different legacy organizations, each with its own distinct culture, has resulted in significant cultural and transformation challenges for the department. At the departmental level, one of the ways DHS is addressing these challenges is by encouraging the transformation to a shared performance-based culture through the implementation of its new human capital management system, MAXHR. DHS considers training to be critical to effectively implementing this initiative and defining its culture. Toward that end, the department is providing a wide range of training, including programs targeted to executives, managers, and supervisors. For example, at the component level, CBP has developed cross-training to equip employees with the knowledge needed to integrate inspection functions once carried out by three different types of inspectors at three separate agencies.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help DHS establish and implement an effective and strategic approach to departmentwide training, the Secretary of Homeland Security should ensure that the department and component organizations develop detailed implementation plans and related processes for training initiatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In GAO-05-888 we noted that because of the department's "dual accountability" governance structure, departmentwide training efforts can present special challenges that make detailed implementation plans particularly important. The DHS Training Leaders Council Strategic Plan for FY 2009-2013 includes an appendix that provides a detailed implementation plan. The appendix identifies specific actions, activities, and key milestones needed to achieve specific goals and objectives. In this regard, the FY 2009-2013 strategic plan represents a significant improvement over the FY 2006-2010 plan we reviewed while conducting our work. The DHS National Security Professional Development Implementation Plan, issued in October of 2008, provides another example of a key departmental training plan that devotes considerable space to the details of implementation including governance and accountability, specific actions and timeframes, and resources required.

    Recommendation: To help DHS establish and implement an effective and strategic approach to departmentwide training, the Secretary of Homeland Security should clearly specify authority and accountability relationships between the Chief Human Capital Officer office and organizational components regarding training as a first step to addressing issues DHS has identified for fiscal year 2006.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Homeland Security has addressed this recommendation in two ways. First, DHS has substantially revised the two-page Management Directive (MD 3210) referenced in GAO-05-888 to more clearly specify authority and accountability relationships. The revised directive (renamed MD 258-01, "Employee Training, Education, and Development") currently appears in the department's management directive guidance database and significantly clarifies roles, responsibilities, policy, and procedures regarding the training function at DHS. Second, the FY 2009-2013 Training Leaders Council Strategic Plan provides information specifying the role played by the Training Leaders Council and how the council works with other DHS offices/components to address DHS's training goals and objectives. This document is signed (and thereby endorsed) by 18 key DHS training executives who are also members of the council.

    Recommendation: To help DHS establish and implement an effective and strategic approach to departmentwide training, the Secretary of Homeland Security should adopt additional good strategic planning and management practices to enhance the department's training strategic plan by (1) creating a clearer crosswalk between specific training goals and objectives and DHS's organizational and human capital strategic goals and (2) developing appropriate training performance measures and targets.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Homeland Security has addressed part of this recommendation but not all parts. Responding to the first part of this recommendation, DHS has considerably clarified the crosswalk between its current training goals and objectives and the department's broader organizational and human capital goals in the FY 2009-2013 Training Leaders Council Strategic Plan and DHS Learning and Development Strategy. Both documents provide a road map to help readers to link DHS's approach towards developing and delivering departmentwide training with key organizational planning documents such as the DHS Human Capital Strategic Plan and the DHS Strategic Plan as well as the goals and objectives they contain. On the other hand, the department has not provided evidence of similar progress involving the development of appropriate training performance measures and targets.

    Recommendation: To help DHS establish and implement an effective and strategic approach to departmentwide training, the Secretary of Homeland Security should, when setting funding priorities, give appropriate attention to providing resources to support training councils and groups to further DHS's capacity to achieve its departmentwide training goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Homeland Security has addressed this recommendation by significantly increasing departmental training resources to provide DHS with additional capacity to achieve departmentwide training goals and objectives. As we reported in GAO-05-888, when we started our review DHS had only one FTE dedicated to carrying out all of its training initiatives at the departmental level and that this number increased to a total of three FTEs by the end of our study. An August 2009 organizational staffing chart of DHS's enterprise learning and development function shows more than 25 FTEs are allocated to work on departmentwide training goals and activities. According to DHS's Chief Learning Officer (CLO), these FTEs are assisted by approximately 20 contractors. Both the DHS CLO and the Deputy CLO stated that the current level of resources provides a considerable improvement in capacity over what was available at the time of our review, and represents a level that allows the department to make progress toward achieving its training goals.

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