Workforce

Budget eyes better training for senior executives

diagram of work team

A new focus on grooming candidates for positions as senior managers was a highlight for federal employees who had little else to cheer in the fiscal 2015 budget.

"The Administration will take administrative actions to produce a Federal executive corps with a broader, stronger experience base," said documents accompanying the budget unveiled March 4. "For example, the Budget includes funding for the Office of Personnel Management to build a stronger onboarding program for new SES, and leadership and engagement training opportunities for current SES that emphasize diversity and the changing needs of a 21st Century workforce."

In addition to the executive training proposal, the budget includes a broader, $56 billion plan aimed at improving customer service and ending "short-sighted cuts to Government operations that compromise efficiency and effectiveness and cost money over the long run, such as growing deferred maintenance backlogs, sharp cuts to Federal employee training, and erosions in customer service at agencies like the Internal Revenue Service."

National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen M. Kelley applauded the emphasis on training. "Agency training budgets have been severely strained in recent years," Kelley said. "Federal employees deal with highly complex and ever-changing laws and regulations. Training is a vital part of the operation of every agency."

A GAO report released the same day as the budget reinforced the message that Senior Executive Service training is lacking.

"[Office of Personnel Management] officials agree that training cost data reported by agencies continues to be unreliable, and is probably lower than actual agency expenditures," the GAO report said.

According to an Internal Revenue Service report, there was an 83 percent decrease in the training expenditures spent on each IRS employee between 2009 and 2013. Sequestration and excessive spending by the IRS on employee conferences have led to the decline in training.

Dan Gordon, former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and now an associate dean at George Washington University Law School, told FCW in November that training cuts can reverberate with particular force in procurement.

"The loss of training makes our people less current in understanding how to run their procurements," Gordon said. "It makes them less current in their knowledge of the industries. It makes them less comfortable in dealing with technological innovation. It damages the procurement system in many ways, which are unfortunately probably too subtle for the public to appreciate. But from the point of view of sophisticated interaction with vendors, it has real impact."

The fiscal 2015 budget hopes to address such concerns with a renewal of federal workforce training and a focus on improved management.

"Data-driven approaches to enhancing management, performance, and innovation across the Federal workforce are critical to fostering a culture of excellence," the budget said. "In 2015, the Administration will support the development of Government-wide enterprise training and resource exchanges across agencies to share best practices and increase leadership development opportunities within Government."

One percent backlash

The budget's call for a 1 percent increase in federal pay, on the other hand, was met with complaint by Kelley and the leaders of other unions representing federal workers.

Anticipating the budget's pay-raise proposal, J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, called last week for a 4 percent hike.

"A 4 percent pay raise is a modest and affordable increase that will help employees keep up with rising living costs, including higher retirement and healthcare expenses," Cox said in a prepared statement.

Bill Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, called the increase "woefully insufficient."

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