Watchdog: Agencies Struggle to Account for Senior Exec Training Costs

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Federal agencies, which spent some $57 million on senior executive training from 2008 through 2012, could improve reporting of cost data if the Office of Personnel Management set tighter timetables, an audit found.

Since 2006, chief human capital officers have been required to report cost data such as travel expenses and training course materials provided by management experts at facilities including Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and OPM’s Federal Executive Institute, according to a new report  from the Government Accountability Office.

But GAO’s yearlong audit found that “many agencies are not yet accurately and completely reporting” the information, and OPM’s efforts to improve accuracy are hindered by “not establishing a timeframe for improving the reliability of executive training cost data,” GAO stated in the report.

The report was released on Tuesday, the same day President Obama unveiled his fiscal 2015 budget document, which proposes investing more money in training federal workers.

Auditors found that “OPM is not sharing lessons learned from agencies that have experience assessing executive training impact on agency mission,” though the government’s HR agency has issued guidance on the subject. Agency human capital officers said they needed additional help from OPM on managing the time, costs and complexity of reporting executive training data.

In a yearlong audit that included focus groups and in-depth interviews at the departments of Energy, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, GAO also found that senior executives in general valued in-person training more than individualized online training, though several of those interviewed mentioned that large gatherings had limits as well.

GAO recommended that OPM establish interim milestones for meeting with agencies to address training data deficiencies and establish timeframes for improving the reliability of agency data. It also advocated greater sharing among agencies of methods for evaluating executive training with an eye toward using them governmentwide.

OPM generally agreed, but noted its own progress in issuing training guidance.

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