Congress looks to more training for IT

Congress looks to more training for IT

'If you want to stop the hemorrhaging of outsourcing, you've got to do more in-house.'
'REP. TOM DAVIS

Formal degrees don't necessarily make for a savvier federal work force, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said at a hearing last month of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy.

'It's not education anymore, it's training,' said Davis, the chairman, arguing against strict hiring rules.

Because more people are leaving the government than coming in, agencies are forced to outsource most of their systems projects, he said.

'If you want to stop the hemorrhaging of outsourcing, you've got to do more in-house,' he said. 'That's our fiduciary duty to taxpayers.'

Contractors are receiving about 70 percent of government IT budgets, according to a National Academy of Public Administration report, The Transforming Power of Information Technology: Making the Federal Government an Employer of Choice for IT Employees.

From fiscal 1990 to 2000, federal spending on contracted IT services rose to $13.4 billion from $3.7 billion, said David McClure, director for IT management at the General Accounting Office.

'Relying on contracting to fill work force gaps is not a panacea,' McClure told the subcommittee. After a decade of downsizing, 'agencies currently face skills, knowledge and experience imbalances.' The imbalances will worsen as more federal workers retire, McClure said.

'When budgets get tight, the first thing to get cut is training,' he said.

Davis said his office asked GAO to find out exactly how much agencies spend on training, but it became clear that there is no strategic plan anywhere for training, particularly IT training.

'Our work on training budgets also looks at how the private sector plans and measures training benefits,' Davis said. 'Right now, the government has no idea how to measure the return on its investment in training.'

Pete Cornman, chief of the special projects office for the Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command in Detroit, said training is not cheap but it is worthwhile. He said his office spends thousands of dollars each year training its employees in new skills.

'Technology changes so rapidly in the IT industry that you really need to keep up to stay competitive,' he said.

Mary Kew, a TACOM program manager, said she took a training seminar to learn HTML and build Web pages. She also took courses in ColdFusion Web development software from Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco.

The biggest hurdle is getting money for training, she said, but even after she was trained to manage Oracle Corp. databases, she had to wait weeks before her office found the money to buy the software. 'We have to fight for every piece of equipment,' she said.

Kew, who has worked in the government for 20 years, said government employees have a harder time finding funds for training and equipment than contractors do. 'It gets frustrating,' she said.

Some people leave government if they're not challenged, not merely for higher salaries or more flexible schedules, she said. Training is what has kept her challenged and in the same career field for so long, Kew said, and she probably would not have stayed if she weren't allowed to take occasional college courses and seminars.

Cornman said he prefers each person in his office to be trained by an outside professional instead of training one employee to teach the others'an alternative and cheaper method. 'We need people to be prepared and ready basically all at once,' he said. 'It doesn't do us any good to have one person trained.'

Specialized training

Extremely specialized IT training is available from General Services Administration contractors such as Westlake Internet Training Inc. of Arlington, Va., which has taught webmasters to work with classified materials. Sometimes the training is at the company offices, and sometimes its teachers go out to agencies.

For example, company instructors go to the Defense Intelligence Agency to teach workers how to use Intelink, an extranet that links civilian and Defense Department intelligence agencies.

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