TOPIC: Training

Stimulus funds in California: Supervise if you’re going to weatherize

The California Inspector General’s office says a contractor hired to weatherize homes, and paid for by federal stimulus funds, overbilled the state agency overseeing the money by $34,803, Timothy Sandoval of CaliforniaWatch reports.

The report also notes that workers and supervisors performing weatherization renovations on homes have not been adequately trained, (more…)

Put More Energy into Hiring at Energy

As Ian Talley and Stephen Power report in the Wall Street Journal, the Energy Department has expended only 7% of stimulus funds the Department received in 2008 — funds that are supposed to go to job creation and innovative energy projects.  The tension at Energy is between vetting proposals carefully and getting money out the door quickly.  Officials want to avoid even the appearance of waste or haste in the selection process, something the Obama administration takes seriously.  But jobs are not being created even as other major programs at the DOE are also experiencing a slow rollout.  What’s the problem?

Talley and Power sum it up as follows:  “department offices were still too short-staffed and under-trained to handle such a massive increase in funding authority.”

Congress usually hates to fund new government hires, but in this case it’s understandable that more hands are needed.  Spending billions of dollars effectively isn’t easy.  So for future projects of this kind, Congress should include funding for temporary, project-related hires and training programs.  If they had set aside even a small portion of the billions in funding for temporary hires, contracts, and training, we’d have more funding going to clean energy projects and more people employed.


Washington Post reporting shows the importance of independent voices within government with the resources and authority to criticize government performance.  Two new GAO reports have emerged:  one describes in detail the lack of progress in meeting benchmarks in Iraq, and the second criticizes State Department effectiveness in hiring, staffing embassies, and hiring and training Arabic-language specialists.  Karen De Young and Tom Ricks have a detailed review of the Iraq report here, and the Post’s "Primary Source" feature excerpts the DOS report here.

The Longstanding Training Merry-Go-Round

Anyone who has worked in government knows about the training conundrum.  It’s allegedly the most important part of enhancing employee performance and retention, but it’s also the first budget line cut when funds get tight.

How can training be both so important and dispensable?  How can the whole program be so paradoxical in practice?

With millions of government training program beneficiaries, there are probably a million answers to that question.

My answer is that training is not always as relevant to the employee’s current or imminent work responsibility.  Some training, of course, must be excluded from this discussion.  Basic entry-level training of new employees, for example, is needed to teach relevant federal rules and regulations so these employees can apply or explain them to citizens during their prescribed work.  But other courses, such as management, communication, organizational change, and certain specific computer applications courses, often fail to materialize tangible results.

One reason is that the organizational culture will overwhelm and prevent any breakthrough ideas emanating from classes like management philosophy, organizational change, etc.  If your manager does not buy-in to the latest management approach or writing style, etc., then you will be unable to exploit whatever benefit you believe you gained through training.  Second, courses dealing with new computer capabilities will be rendered ineffective if employees are unable to apply this new knowledge (like PowerPoint, Project Management software, Excel, etc.) immediately and consistently to perform their jobs.

Julie Sturgeon’s analysis in Government Executive (July 31, 2006) outlines how few resources are even earmarked for employee training.

Fred Apelquist, contributing editor