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Training the Watchdogs: ‘Our Job Doesn't End When You Leave The Door’ 

Government Executive spoke with Douglas Holt, executive director of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency’s training institute.

Training is a critical and essential tool for federal employees that is often underutilized, according to a senior government official who is working to change that. 

Douglas Holt has been the executive director of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency’s training institute since June 2016. He previously served as the chief learning officer and chief of human capital learning at the Defense Intelligence Agency. 

“We expanded our mindset from training to performance, so our job doesn't end when you leave the door, we need to be working on affecting your performance,” Holt said. 

Through his tenure at the watchdog council, he’s been able to showcase some of the work of the 14,000 inspector general employees. “It turns out there are some incredibly, amazing, fascinating people that work in the offices of inspector general and you'd never know how incredible, except for now we put them out there,” he said. 

Government Executive interviewed Holt on Friday to learn more about his work. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity. 

Can you describe what your role entails, what the training institute is and who you work with?

In [the] role I oversee the activities of our three training academies, which I’ll fill you in on in just a second, and their learning and performance solutions that they put out to the OIG workforce. So, our target audience is potentially all 14,000 OIG employees but you know we're one place where all of those folks get training, or a lot of those folks get training, but they have lots of other places to go, but we’re a core, common place. One, [is] audits, inspections and evaluations; two would be our criminal investigator academy; and then three we have a leadership and mission support academy. 

We're also involved in a nascent coaching program that we have that we're working with one of our committees and subcommittees on. We have a fellows program under leadership where they do some rotational experience and some leadership development and things along those lines, so we're pretty spread out.

So, this is for the IG workforce, not necessarily the IGs themselves?

Well, we do have some training for the IGs themselves. For new or acting [IGs] it’s called “IG 101” and we just set that up as a series of experiences to help the new people get started, where they get to engage with their counterparts in kind of a mentoring relationship...And then we spend some time on IGs' authorities and issues and those sorts of things: positive things to do, things to stay away from that would tend to get you in trouble and that sort of thing if you're not paying attention to how you're going about your business or being aware of your authorities, where IGs in the past have had issues. 

Can you talk about how the pandemic has impacted your work?

Pre-pandemic so, I guess 2019 into early 2020 or whenever that started, we were almost entirely in-person training. When the pandemic hit, within days we became almost entirely virtual...We had been working towards more virtual or online kind of training opportunities, but they were sort of in the workshop and hadn’t been brought out. So as soon as that occurred, we brought them out, tuned them up and sent them out in a lot of cases kind of a little earlier than we intended.

In 2016, which is the year I first got here, in total we trained 2,600 people. This year, 2021, we have trained 8,500 and all of those were virtual. And so, it's been a big difference in our ability to reach [more people], and the scope of things we're doing. And we have the same size staff, so that's made things a little bit exciting, but challenge is good for the soul, I guess. 

I've been doing this for a lot, a lot of years and I think training as a whole is profoundly broken as an industry. How do we know and why do I think that? Well one, we talk about training as an end of itself instead of talking about on-the-job performance...But our role as learning professionals is to affect on-the-job performance...Number two, the structure and design of most training doesn't match with what research tells us about how human beings learn. 

We expanded our mindset from training to performance, so our job doesn't end when you leave the door, we need to be working on affecting your performance…We've designed something called “the Navigator” that has the workflow involved in the inspection and evaluation process, identifies the tasks, has steps for performing the tasks, job aids, all that kind of stuff...If they're in the classroom we teach them how to use “the Navigator” and use that as a resource. And then when they go away, they're out in the field, they can access the thing on an iPad or phone, wherever they need to.

And then we've started putting lots of in between [tools] out there in public forum. So, for example, we've done things called Collect Connect Collaborate, where professionals from a certain discipline get together and they talk about issues or techniques or things like that for like an hour or so over lunch. We've put together a series of YouTube videos called “10 Question Tuesday” ... that's where we brought in people from the community just to learn about them and talk about their experiences. And it turns out there are some incredibly, amazing, fascinating people that work in the offices of inspector general and you'd never know how incredible, except for now we put them out there. 

Can you tell me approximately how many staff members you have? Also, how frequently do people need to go through training––is it required annually or is it when they think they need something?

There's 12 people total in the training institute among those three academies. A handful are detailees that we get from the OIG on a rotational basis, so they change out every two or three years or so. And we do get a ton of support both from our operations team, which was the other part of CIGIE, and from a number of people in the community, both as facilitators or as people to help us organize different events and activities. 

How often [for training]? It depends on the area, but most of the professionals in the community have a certain number of continuing professional education requirements and have to earn a certain number of continuing professional units or something like that. I can't remember the exact words. And a period of time a year or two years, depending on the area they have to get those units to demonstrate that they are maintaining their professional edge, and all that sort of thing. 

There's a lot of optional after that, but obviously if you're brand new to the community, you're going to need training, probably going to come to us as one of your core places because what makes us different than other entities that may do some of what we do at least, is that it's very, OIG community focus so the examples, the terminology, the experiences—they all are around what really happened in this community, not just an abstract concept.

You had several pretty big roles at the Defense Intelligence Agency and I'm wondering if you were able to apply any of that to your role at CIGIE or is it just completely different? 

Well, it's not completely different, actually it's the environment. Obviously it's totally different. One, I can talk about stuff that I do and two, that was a giant bureaucracy really, part of the Department of Defense, and you know I'm going from a gazillion people to an office total of I think 29 people who are CIGIE the agency...But a lot of what I'm trying to do here, I was able to kind of develop and pioneer and test while I was at the DIA. There were a few of us who were like-minded, and we would get together all the time and talk and try and experiment, bring in the researchers and all that. So, coming into CIGIE I kind of got a rolling head start in knowing what I wanted to do, as the lead for the learning function, and being able to implement that. Now, it's hard to do, takes a lot of time. It's confusing. You know, if you just throw it at people and so it's, you know, you have to do this over a long period of time, but I think that that was a big advantage.

Before I was in government, I worked for colleges and universities, obviously totally different from government, you know it's all-around academic issues and faculty. So, moving into the DIA as my first government job was kind of a culture shock...The thing that I will never forget [from] day one there, and that I've carried with me ever since and [has] helped me here, is when I put on that intelligence community badge for the first time. You put that lanyard around your neck, and you feel the weight of responsibility of the public trust and that you are really, no kidding, working for the American people...Every single day I remember that; I feel that lanyard around my neck, even though it's not there anymore. And so, I bring that into CIGIE and I try to do my level best to earn the trust even though nobody's watching. But it's a big deal to me. And it's a big deal to the community. That's what the IG community is all about, it's [about] maintaining the public trust in government. The respect I have for the IGs and their staffs is enormous. They have very hard jobs. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add or say to the community of government executives? 

What I want to say to the fellow execs out there in government land is take a good hard look at what your training organizations are doing and how they're doing it. Are they really meeting the bar? Are they really performing the function that you need them to be performing? Or is it just a place that you send in problem people? Or send them to learn something and then keep sending them because they don't seem to be getting it? Do that, and demand more of your training organizations. 

Where do we need more? More training in the areas that I would really love to do more in and we started to dabble in one is critical thinking...One of the things that I came across at DIA actually that I brought here is the foundation for critical thinking. They have a really great set of resources including something called the wheel of reason, which it's an interactive tool. It allows you to kind of check your thinking so there's a structure to thinking that has people who are reviewing the work of others, really should be applying, so that your thinking is tight, your products are tight, your writing is good and organized. It really affects everything that we do. But it's kind of the last thing we think about, so I think that should be the first thing you think about. 

Second is data literacy. Data is all around us. You don't have to be data scientists to do work, but you do have to be data literate in terms of your ability to read, write, to analyze and communicate at a basic level, at least, so that if you come across some kind of problem or issue, it clicks into your head...And then the one place in our work that they're the one area that I would like to be able to do more than just really happens is mission support. So, all those other functions, other than the auditors and the inspectors or the investigators and all that sort of stuff. That's really a place I would like to see us grow.