Navy's Spawar offers options to students

Still mired in cumbersome federal regulations government training programs overall have failed to keep pace with technology in terms of convenience and availability. But the Navy is using two major contracts to forge faster and more progressive training methods.

Under PRC Inc.'s $3 billion Supermini contract and Electronic Data Systems Corp.'s $332 million PC LAN+ contract the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (Spawar) is piloting new methods of providing contract users with commercial training classes. The byproduct of government/contractor efforts to bring high-tech training on par with recent procurement reform the pilot programs were designed to tackle two of the biggest training problems facing agencies: arcane federal purchasing habits that tie specific individuals to specific training classes and the unpopularity of "feds only" classes.

Devised separately at the beginning of the summer the two programs are based on a blanket voucher system which allows customers to buy and book blocks of training hours.

Through the use of a voucher system - which in the case of PC LAN+ includes credit card payment - Spawar is trying to avoid binding students into certain preordained courses an increasingly inefficient method of training the workforce said Nikki Isfahani Spawar's PC LAN+ program manager.

"Normally when cutting a delivery order you had to name an individual that would attend and get them there without anything changing " Isfahani said. "That is difficult given training budgets potential illness and a person's workload."

The system was further complicated by federal requirements that training be purchased in tandem with equipment. Isfahani said "When you are rolling out a major program something that you will install on every Air Force base across the country you have to order the training up front - often before you've hired the people. So you don't know their qualifications yet but have to make choices based on how many" will require advanced intermediate beginning courses she said.

Traditional methods of procuring training services often led to horror stories of government inefficiency. In one instance the government continued to hold expense-laden training classes in Turkey long after the training was deemed unnecessary. "It was not what they wanted and not what we wanted but we had to do it because they had the funds allocated " one government contractor said.

Under the new system the customer could simply reallocate that commitment of training dollars. "Our concept is that they buy credits and lock into a price " when those credits are redeemed is entirely up to the agency or even the user said Peter Buck EDS' program manager for PC LAN+. "The office placing the order will get a set of [credit] cards but they won't manage the training. The typical customer would be responsible for the training and make decisions based on training needs over the year " he added.

Another benefit of the voucher arrangement is that it allows agencies to earmark funds of one year for training that may take place in the next year which will have particular relevance in the coming months as the end-of-the-year buying rush ensues Buck said.

The flexibility built into these programs is key because the contracts themselves are governmentwide contracting vehicles offered to many agencies which now have a variety of contracting vehicles to meet their technological needs.

The training associated with the technology must be equally accessible said David Koranek Spawar's Supermini program manager. He added that the new system is also more conducive to current fiscal constraints. "Training budgets tend to ebb and flow during a budget crisis and this allows customers to adjust."

The new training arrangements also were devised to include the kind of courses that today's federal workforce wants to take Isfahani said. "We came up with something that is more in tune with what the student wants. The training is for COTS products and is not specialized for DOD. We found that if for instance we were offering a word processing class or a language class that was tailored for DOD the students didn't care for that."

From all early indications government customers approve of the new methods according to Terry Caruthers PRC's director of its Supermini program. "We had our program approved in June and since then we have had excellent response from the customer. It does seem to have solved a number of their problems."

PC LAN+ Training Program * Enacted June 1996 * Credits last through contract life (Year 2001) * Includes bonus credits for orders over $10 000 * Training provided through subcontractors New Horizons and Inacom at 120 locations * Users get PC LAN+ Training Credit Card * Included courses in following product lines* Operating systems* Databases* Software

Superminicomputer Training Program * Enacted May 1996 * Ordering possible under a single CLIN 5500 the Supermini training unit which began as an Oracle training unit * Orders modified through phone call * One training unit equals $1 - "draw-down" balance * Courses include operating systems and others * Courses offered through PRC or product suppliers


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