Treasury to pump up IT training

The Treasury Department aims to spend $20 million in fiscal 2001 to train its information technology work force more than double what it spent last year as part of a plan to improve the skills of its IT staff. The budget amounts to 3 percent of the department's IT payroll. In fiscal 1998, the d

The Treasury Department aims to spend $20 million in fiscal 2001 to train its information technology work force - more than double what it spent last year - as part of a plan to improve the skills of its IT staff.

The budget amounts to 3 percent of the department's IT payroll. In fiscal 1998, the department spent about $9.3 million on training, or about 1.5 percent of its IT payroll.

Treasury's 14 bureaus will fund their own training programs, based on specific needs.

The plan also names as Treasury's "highest priority" the establishment of an internship program to attract "top technical talent" to the department, whether they be recent college graduates or current employees who want to change careers. Meanwhile, officials will decide this fall whether Treasury will cope with a shortage of IT workers by hiring temporary employees to do some technical jobs.

These steps reflect private-sector practices and are "smart," said Renny DiPentima, president of SRA Federal Systems and a former federal IT executive. Assuming Treasury does not want to outsource more work to contractors, he added, "I think they really have to take those steps if in fact the government is going to keep a healthy presence of their own IT employees."

The plan, released last week, describes how Treasury will carry out the recommendations contained in a recent report about how to cope with a crisis in IT skills. Among the report's findings were that almost half of Treasury's 9,300 IT workers would be eligible for retirement within the next five years.

In addition, the department, like most federal agencies, faces increasing competition for workers from the private sector and has trouble retaining young employees. Fred Thompson, Treasury's program manager for IT work force improvement, said that, for example, "one of the things we're definitely looking for in the design" of an internship program is ways to encourage interns to make their careers with Treasury

Private companies are believed to spend from 2 percent to 10 percent of the value of their IT payroll on training technical workers. Federal agencies are thought to spend less, with managers complaining that training programs are the first things cut when budgets are tight.

DiPentima noted, however, that "clever agencies" can find low-cost ways to educate employees. "When you're talking about formal classroom training, there is some strain on that," but computer-based training tools, in-house lectures and "peer group training" can help employees acquire skills.

The planned internship program, which is modeled after one run by the Defense Information Systems Agency, would involve 50 trainees next year and 100 in fiscal 2001. The interns could be recent college graduates or current Treasury employees who want to change careers.

Thompson said the goal of the program is to give up-and-coming technologists and managers "a broad view of the organization" and a "road map for how they'll move up," along with job-specific skills.

Treasury issued a task order this month under the General Services Administration's Management, Organization and Business Improvement Services contract for a vendor to design its internship program.

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