FBI lacks IT resources for hiring and training

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The FBI must put a higher priority on using information technology to support administrative functions such as hiring and training, according to a report from the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA).

The bureau has historically put a low priority on using IT for internal support, but the report states that technology is increasingly necessary. The bureau spends an increasing amount of time and resources fighting cyber-based attacks and high- technology crimes, but human resources administrators and training officials struggle to get IT support for their activities.

The 68-page report describes unsolved workforce problems that could hamper the bureau's efforts to develop national security and counterterrorism capabilities.

A NAPA panel led by former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh reached that conclusion after a five-month study that ended in June. The panel, whose report was published last month, found that the FBI couldn't use computers at its training facility in Quantico, Va., to teach courses with highly classified content because the bureau lacked funds to install a secure information network.

Panel members also reported that obsolete computer equipment "is severely limiting the ability to use Web-based training." For example, the FBI bought 10,000 software licenses from Ninth House for computer-based training, but only 200 employees at a time can use the software because the bureau has too few computers that are powerful enough to run it.

Also, a lack of Web connections at many FBI field offices limits the bureau's use of automated staffing software such as QuickHire.

The NAPA panel noted that the FBI's Bureau Personnel Management System contains continuously updated administrative data that would be valuable to managers. But extracting the data requires programmers skilled in an outmoded programming language, and FBI managers generally do not ask programming staff for the data.

The panel found it troublesome that the FBI has no single person or organization responsible for workforce training and no comprehensive system to track the bureau's investments in training or measure the development of employee skills.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the FBI's computer specialist and IT management workforce has grown 22 percent, from 907 employees to 1,106 in May 2005. The panel recommended that the FBI use that IT expertise to improve the flow of information in the bureau and provide data for better workforce management decisions.

The FBI is trying to fix many of the problems identified in the report, but panel members expressed concern that bureau employees are too busy with daily operations to plan and evaluate those changes.

Kristine Marcy, a member of the NAPA panel, said one of the FBI's most serious challenges will be to retain senior leaders so they can follow through in making needed workforce changes.

FBI Director Robert Mueller, who has been at the bureau since September 2001, has the longest tenure of any of the FBI's top leaders, said Marcy, a NAPA fellow who is a consultant at McConnell International.

"It's a killer place to work in terms of the workload," she said. "If you think of the burden these people carry of preventing the next attack, how does anybody ever relax?"

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