IT gaps slow DHS training

GAO ties success of MaxHR to training systems, spending

The Homeland Security Department's lack of compatible information systems among its 22 component agencies is slowing essential training programs designed to standardize management culture and practices departmentwide, Government Accountability Office auditors said in a recent report.

"The training functions at DHS' components largely operate as they did before the creation of the department," with most of the same policies, infrastructure and people still in place, the report states.

The lack of suitable management information-sharing systems limits decision-makers' ability to effectively use departmentwide training resources, said Kimberly Gianopoulos, GAO's assistant director of strategic issues.

For instance, DHS officials have complained that they lack a list of DHS' important training employees and must rely only on resources within their components, Gianopoulos said. And the various learning management systems that different components use are not compatible.

To fix those problems, DHS is creating an online inventory of training facilities to improve awareness of resources and support the department's move toward common training standards, Gianopoulos said.

A number of training officials told GAO that DHS had insufficient funding and employees to fulfill its training goals, according to the report. "Successful and timely completion of these and other initiatives will depend on sufficient resources being provided," it states.

DHS has made some significant progress toward creating a departmentwide training program, the report states. In July, the department released its first strategic plan for training, based on input from all agencies. The plan outlines goals for fiscal 2006, including support for the implementation of MaxHR, DHS' new human resources system.

But the effects of IT and spending deficiencies on MaxHR remain unclear, Gianopoulos said. She did not know how much a $23 million appropriations cut, which the House and Senate agreed to in a Sept. 30 congressional conference report, may change the program. Congress cut MaxHR's budget for fiscal 2006 from $53 million to $30 million.

DHS has developed training specifically for MaxHR, a flexible, performance-based, market-oriented system that will affect 110,000 of DHS' 180,000 employees.

"DHS correctly recognizes that a substantial investment in training is a key aspect of effectively implementing MaxHR, and in particular, the new performance management system it establishes," the report states.

The GAO report makes good points, but they are so broad that they do not consider the current effects of the lack of appropriate training, said Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union. The union represents more than 14,000 DHS workers.

The department should use the training money and staff for frontline training, not for MaxHR training for managers, Kelley said. NTEU and other unions also fear that managers will not get adequate training in MaxHR and won't be held accountable for implementing the system, she said.

DHS managers have ignored the input of frontline employees, whose insight is necessary to make MaxHR work, said Chuck Showalter, president of the National Homeland Security Council. The council is affiliated with the American Federation of Government Employees, a union with 22,000 DHS employees as members.

The department is focusing on organizational and technological changes instead of developing and maintaining a skilled, trained, specialized workforce, Showalter said. DHS "has too high a preference for technology over people," he said.

Workforce training at DHS

The Homeland Security Department must develop an effective, consistent strategic plan for its training activities to fulfill its mission of protecting the nation, Government Accountability Office officials advised in a recent audit report.

GAO recommended that DHS:

  • Enhance its strategic plan for training by connecting it to DHS' overall and workforce strategic goals and establishing appropriate performance measures and targets.
  • Clarify authority and accountability between the Office of the Chief Human Capital Officer and DHS components to start meeting DHS' training goals for fiscal 2006.
  • Develop more detailed plans to coordinate and implement training programs.
  • Set funding priorities to ensure that training councils and groups get adequate support.

— Michael Arnone

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