OPM regs alter training sites, services

Recently the Office of Personnel Management issued interim regulations governing federal employee training that will offer agencies and workers wider options, including expanded use of the private sector. They might also put a crimp in conference attendance because they call for "strict" controls on the selection of conference sites.

These new regulations put into action provisions of the Federal Workforce Restructuring Act of March 30, 1994, (Public Law 103-226). This was based upon the September 1993 report of the National Performance Review (NPR), which recommended that agencies conduct training in a manner that makes no distinction between government and non-government training.

The NPR recommended that all training activities be "market driven." As a result, the definition of training has been expanded to include not only that which is related directly to the performance of an employee's duties but also that which improves individual and organizational performance and assists an agency in achieving its missions and performance goals. Under the new law, the head of each agency is responsible for relating training programs and plans to an agency's mission and performance goals. A provision of the law even permits agencies to train employees for placement in another agency if such training is in the interest of the government. This could mean that in an era of downsizing, it would be OK for one agency to train an employee in preparation for that employee taking a job in another agency.

The new regulations place increased emphasis on outside training compared with previous policy, which encouraged managers to take full advantage of available government resources. The implicit message contained in the OPM regulations is that government managers should obtain training wherever it's available, without regard to the source. This should be a boon to those who provide training to the federal government but a bummer for feds who are in the business of providing training for other agencies.

A potential negative in these regulations is the incorporation of guidance (previously contained in a Federal Personnel Manual letter) that says agencies should "exercise strict fiscal responsibility when selecting conference sites to minimize costs and to keep employee attendance at such conferences to a minimum, consistent with serving the public's interest." Agencies can sponsor an employee's attendance at a conference as a developmental assignment if the content of the conference is germane to improving individual and/or organizational performance and developmental benefits will be derived by the employee's attendance at the conference.

The basic change brought about by these regulations is that individual agencies now must determine on a case-by-case basis what constitutes mission-related training and who is responsible for training employees, as well as determining when it is appropriate to train an employee for work to be performed at another agency. The new regulations also eliminate an ironclad requirement that employees sign an agreement to remain in the employ of the government for a certain period in exchange for training provided by the government. Agencies now can decide whether such agreements are required as a precondition for sending an employee to a specific training session.

The new provision that permits an agency to train an employee for employment with another agency is an interesting one. Agencies can train employees to meet the qualification requirements for positions in another agency if the head of the agency determines that such training serves the government. The only condition that must be met is a verification that there is a reasonable expectation that the employee being trained will secure a position with another agency.

Although it's inappropriate for an agency to authorize training an employee to obtain an academic degree, agencies can assign employees to academic training on a course-by-course basis. If, as a result of "course-by-course" training, an employee receives a degree, that is not in violation of the law and is considered to be an "incidental byproduct of the training." Nice.

It looks like OPM has delegated virtually all its training responsibilities, and training has become the domain of individual agencies. Whether that's a good move remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

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Bureaucratus is a retired federal employee who is a regular contributor to Federal Computer Week and author of Bureaucratus Moneyline, a personal finance newsletter for feds, available by subscription on FCW's Web page at http://www.fcw.com. For more information, contact him at bureaucratus@fcw.com.

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