Agriculture growing a training system

Who's in charge

Scott Charbo

CIO


Gregory Parham

Acting associate CIO for cybersecurity


Janice Lilja

Associate CIO for telecommunications services and operations


Chris Niedermayer

Associate CIO and E-government executive


Marilyn Holland

Acting associate CIO for IT management

Top contractors

(October 2002 to september 2003 in millions)

IBM Corp

$30.9


Government Acquisitions Inc.

27.2


Dell Inc.

26.1


EDS Corp

23.8


Unisys Corp.

18.0


Vista Technologies Inc.

16.1


Computer Sciences Corp.

12.6


Computer Consulting Operations

11.0


ASRC Aerospace Corp.

10.3


National Systems & Research Co.

6.5


Total

$182.5



Sources for Inside Agriculture include the Agriculture Department and Input of Reston, Va.

'We can tell on a department basis who has taken what course, when, if completed, and [their] score.'

'Chris Niedermayer

Henrik G. de Gyor

How does a far-flung federal department take soup-to-nuts control of its employee training? With an enterprise learning management system.

That's what the Agriculture Department recently rolled out with AgLearn. It lets employees search, get approval and register for training courses, track their progress and complete courses. It lets managers handle course approvals and financing and follow employees' performance. The system also houses the individual planning and training records of each employee.

AgLearn is designed to provide one-stop services for scheduling, delivering and managing training for Agriculture employees at headquarters and field offices nationwide. Agriculture planned to increase the number of users from 7,000 to 60,000 by the end of this month and extend service to all the department's 105,000 employees by October, said Chris Niedermayer, Agriculture associate CIO for e-government.

'Government agencies cannot achieve the order of magnitude improvement demanded by the administration without a corresponding increase of the skills. Nor can we afford the time or financial resources required by traditional methods of organizational learning,' Niedermayer said.

AgLearn is a customized version of the governmentwide GoLearn system from the Office of Personnel Management. Agriculture is a partner with OPM in the e-training initiative, one of the 25 Quicksilver e-government projects.

GoLearn is an umbrella learning management system with commercial courseware that agencies can purchase. OPM has identified several vendors agencies can hire to develop their own learning management systems, and they can use what the governmentwide portal already offers.

Agriculture selected Plateau Systems Ltd. of Arlington, Va., to build its learning management system and GP E-Learning Solutions of Elkridge, Md., as the hosting service provider. The department signed a contract with OPM, which in turn wrote a task order against its contract with those two providers to build Agriculture's system under the GoLearn umbrella, Niedermayer said. The Plateau 4 LMS is built on the Java 2 Enterprise Edition architecture. GP E-Learning provides hosting at its facility in Dulles, Va.

'They aren't integrated in the traditional way. You're not going through GoLearn
to get to AgLearn,' Niedermayer said. GoLearn uses a different system.

A department employee can see what's available on both systems by going to AgLearn. Employees and managers can also choose to have AgLearn notify them of new courses. An agency can purchase, on an employee or license basis, commercial courseware available at GoLearn, such as SkillSoft, a library of about 2,000 courses in IT, business and reference books. Employees receive an ID and password to gain access.

Planning for progress

The system allows managers to develop a curriculum of mandatory courses and a performance plan for each employee, who can choose a course and add it to their curriculum queue. The manager can track the employee's performance and score.

For example, Agriculture requires annual security and civil rights training. By consolidating the department under one learning management system, 'We can tell on a department basis who has taken what course, when, if completed, and [their] score,' Niedermayer said. He called it a key component to improving how Agriculture manages its employees.

Agriculture has had five e-learning systems at agencies including the Food Safety and Inspection, Farm, and Animal and Plant Health Inspection services. 'Those will be turned off by the end of the fiscal year,' Niedermayer said.

By the end of this month, Agriculture expects to finish integrating its enterprise e-Authentication system with AgLearn. Employees registering for courses link with the authentication system to receive credentials and a login ID and password.

Agriculture links the authentication credential to an employee's curriculum account. AgLearn also automatically pulls personnel information from human resources systems.

Agriculture plans to add by October an automated training request process to replace the current paper form used when an employee chooses a course with a fee.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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