Federal Training Investments:

Office of Personnel Management and Agencies Can Do More to Ensure Cost-Effective Decisions

GAO-12-878: Published: Sep 17, 2012. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 2012.

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What GAO Found

Many Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCOs) reported that they are implementing several leading practices important to making strategic decisions about training delivery, such as determining the best mix of decentralized and centralized training and considering government-wide reform when planning training. However, many CHCOs reported they are not implementing some practices that support making more cost-effective training investment decisions, such as prioritizing training so that the most important needs are met first and evaluating the benefits of training. In addition, many CHCOs do not have information from component or sub-agency leaders regarding their level of investments and priorities. Consequently, some agencies are duplicating internal across their agencies. Federal agencies also need reliable information on how much they spend on training and for what purposes. However, several CHCOs reported they do not completely and reliably track training costs agency-wide.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) provides guidance and assistance to agencies on a number of the leading practices, such as evaluating the benefits of training in three of its guides and in workshops. In some practice areas thatare challenges to agencies, such as prioritization of investments and determining whether to design training and development programs in-house or obtain these services from a contractor, guidance is minimal or absent. OPM also requires agencies to submit training investment data and provides guidance on how to do so, but considers this data to be unreliable because it is incomplete. However, OPM officials have not internally assessed improvements in the completeness of the data over the last 3 years or the quality of the data in the six years that agencies have been required to submit it, and have only provided agencies with one summary of their data for correction. Agencies and OPM reported there are also opportunities for OPM to help agencies reduce duplicative investments across agencies. For example, currently, agencies independently purchase or develop training for the same mandated or common occupational training. Agency leaders and OPM recognize that this has led to redundant and inefficient federal training investments. According to OPM officials, HR University—which is a website currently administered by OPM to provide training for the HR community—has already resulted in a cost savings of $14.5 million as a result of sharing the best HR training government-wide. Several agencies and OPM officials reported that HR University could be expanded to provide mandatory mtraining and serve as a model for centralizing training in other occupations or functional areas, which could save millions more and help standardize training.

Why GAO Did This Study

OPM and agency CHCOs play an important role in ensuring that federal training dollars are invested effectively. GAO was asked to review the extent to which: (1) CHCOs of selected federal agencies have established processes to set and prioritize training investments that are aligned with leading practices; and (2) OPM’s guidance and assistance for developing training investment strategies align with these leading practices. GAO obtained information from 27 CHCOs on their training investment practices through a questionnaire, and selected four agencies—the Departments of Energy (DOE), Homeland Security (DHS), the Interior (DOI) and Veterans Affairs (VA)—to provide illustrative examples. We compared both CHCO and OPM practices to leading practices, identified through past GAO and expert studies.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends, among other things, that OPM improve guidance and assistance to agencies inestablishing a process for setting and prioritizing training investments; improve the reliability of agency training investment information; and identify the best existing courses that fulfill governmentwide training requirements, and offer them to all agencies through the HR University or other appropriate platforms. OPM fully or partially concurred with four recommendations and did not concur with a portion of another. OPM, DOI and VA provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated, as appropriate, into the report. DOE and DHS had no comments.

For more information, contact Yvonne J. Jones at (202) 512-2717 or Jonesy@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: On February 18, 2015, OPM officials provided a document that summarized efforts that are underway to address the recommendation. According to the document, under the OMB/GSA Category Management Education & Training Initiative, OPM leads and participates on two working groups that are addressing federal training investment decision making. The working groups have been tasked with revamping several categories of training standards development; including improving federal training investment decisions and improving the quality of training data. According to OPM, the expected output is to measure impact, not just quantitative information, to inform data-driven decision-making on training investments. The document also stated that by the end of FY 2015, the working groups expect to complete three guides to include: 1) a draft of training prioritization standards; 2) standardization of, and guidance on, SF 182 and training data quality; and 3) guidance on developing sound training programs and financial plans for training.

    Recommendation: To improve federal training investment decision-making processes, the Director of OPM should include in existing or new OPM guidance or technical assistance additional information in the following areas: (1) Steps agencies should take and factors they should consider when prioritizing federal training investments agency-wide, including developing a process to rank training using criteria, such as expected demand for the investment from internal sources, availability of resources to support the effort, potential for increased revenue, and risk of unfavorable consequences if investments are not made. (2) Steps agencies should take and factors they should consider for comparing the merits of different delivery mechanisms and determining the mix of mechanisms to use, in order to ensure efficient and cost-effective delivery of federal training. Such guidance could include requesting that agencies consistently utilize Standard Form-182 to document and report training costs associated with the different delivery mechanisms employed.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: On February 18, 2015, OPM officials provided a document that summarized efforts that are underway to address the recommendation. According to the document, during FY 14, OPM & CLOC co-chaired a working group to develop proposed standardized data elements/metrics and data quality scorecard. This task has been folded into the agenda of the OPM-led working groups under the OMB/GSA Category Management Initiative. OPM stated that by September 30, 2015, it expects to develop and approve proposed standardized data elements and metrics and a quality scorecard. In the summer of 2014, OPM administered a survey to the Training & Development List Serv members on the utilization of OPM's Training and Development Wiki on opm.gov. Survey results revealed that over 50% of the respondents were not aware of the Wiki. A plan to revitalize the Wiki in order to provide improved guidance to agencies has been developed but OPM's Employee Services still needs to determine what funding is available for the product.

    Recommendation: To improve federal training investment decision-making processes, the Director of OPM should, in line with statutory and regulatory provisions on maintenance and reporting of training information, work with the CHCO Council to improve the reliability of agency training investment information by: (1) ensuring that agencies are familiar with and follow guidance outlined in OPM's Guide for the Collection and Management of Training Information regarding which training events should be documented as training and reported to OPM; (2) developing policies to strengthen the utilization of Standard Form- 182 to document and report training costs; (3) encouraging agencies through guidance and technical assistance, to develop policies that require consistent reporting of training data to their learning management systems; and (4) encouraging each agency to assess its existing training information system(s) and identify whether it is providing complete and reliable data and, if not, to develop approaches to improve the system(s), in order to do so.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: OPM officials provided a document on February 18, 2015, that summarized efforts that are underway to address the recommendation. According to the document, OPM stated that by September 30, 2015, it expects to develop and approve proposed standardized data elements and metrics and a quality scorecard. In addition, OPM stated that the agency will provide agencies their training data reports from EHRI for FY 14 in FY 15.

    Recommendation: To improve federal training investment decision-making processes, the Director of OPM should provide regular report summaries to agencies on Enterprise Human Resources Integration (EHRI) training investment data and its reliability, in order to improve the transparency and reliability of federal training investment data.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: On February 18, 2015, OPM officials provided a document that summarized efforts that are underway to address the recommendation. According to the document, by the end of FY 2015, the OPM Talent Development working groups expect to complete three guides which will include: 1) a draft of training prioritization standards; 2) standardization of, and guidance on, SF 182 and training data quality; and 3) guidance on developing sound training programs and financial plans for training. In addition, the document stated that OPM will also develop a report: The State of Learning and Development in the Federal Government. According to OPM, this report will provide insight into best practices in the public sector. To develop this report, OPM plans to survey agencies' CLOs/Training Officers in March 2015, follow-up on survey results with focus groups (if needed), and research private-sector learning and development programs. The report is planned for delivery in late 2015.

    Recommendation: To improve federal training investment decision-making processes, the Director of OPM should, once federal training data reliability has been sufficiently improved, consistent with Executive Order No. 11348, use EHRI data to: a) counsel heads of agencies and other agency officials on the improvement of training, and b) assist agencies in developing sound programs and financial plans for training and provide advice, information, and assistance to agencies on planning and budgeting training programs.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: On February 18, 2015, OPM officials provided a document that summarized OPM's continuing efforts to address the recommendation. According to the document, OPM is designing and building a Government-wide University prototype known as Gov U. Through Gov U all federal employees will access accredited training and education through a centralized portal that links them to federally mandated training, occupational and management/leadership courses and degree programs, so the government can reduce costs, increase quality and assure access for all employees. According to OPM, the CLOC Mandatory Training Working Group drafted the government-wide mandatory training curriculum and also met to discuss the process for selecting federally mandated training courses to share across agencies in different modalities. The working group is currently developing the Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking training. The course structure and interface have been designed. The course structure and interface have been designed and the course storyboarding is expected to be completed by the end of April 2015.

    Recommendation: To improve federal training investment decision-making processes, the Director of OPM should, in collaboration with the CHCO and Chief Learning Officer (CLO) Councils, identify the best existing courses that fulfill government-wide training requirements, such as mandatory Equal Employment Opportunity training, or training in common federal occupations, such as basic training in financial management, and offer them to all agencies through HR University or other appropriate platform to reduce costly and duplicative federal training investments.

    Agency Affected: Office of Personnel Management

 

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