Tight budgets pinch training, CIOs report

Many agencies do not have the resources and budget to adequately train information technology managers to meet core competencies as required by the Clinger-Cohen Act, according to a draft of a survey of agency chief information officers.

While 25 of the 26 CIOs surveyed reported that they had tried to determine requirements for personnel skills and knowledge of information resources management, only 16 of the CIOs had begun to assess the extent to which their executive- and management-level staff met these requirements, according to the draft survey obtained by Federal Computer Week. The report did not identify the agencies to which those 16 CIOs belong.

The Clinger-Cohen Act, which went into effect in August 1996, required agencies to create CIO positions and directed the CIOs to establish, assess and improve knowledge and skill levels for IRM employees. The act did not define what IRM staff should know or the skills they should have, but the CIO Council in February 1997 developed a framework of core competencies for agencies to use to comply with the legislation.

The survey, conducted during the first half of 1998 by the Education and Training Committee of the CIO Council, questioned CIOs on whether they have complied with the act's requirements and the core competencies framework. The survey found that only eight agencies reported having funds available for training required by Clinger-Cohen.

Perhaps as a result, only eight agencies that reported having offered training focused primarily or exclusively on IRM core competencies. Of the 16 agencies that had provided some core competency training, most reported that the training was provided in conjunction with plan-ned upgrades to agency hardware or software.

A majority of the CIOs said their IRM staffs had the least amount of understanding and required skills in the project management area, while a few agencies reported knowledge and skills deficiencies in capital planning and business-case development.

Gloria Parker, CIO of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and chairwoman of the CIO Council committee, said the report shows that agencies have increased their focus on IT training since Clinger-Cohen. The CIO Council has helped to put the issue "on the front burner" in many agencies, but, she noted, other agencies still have work to do to meet the requirements of the legislation. "It's not something you put into place overnight," she said. "The results that I want to focus on are the best practices used by a couple of agencies that I think are wonderful opportunities for the rest of us to focus on."

Kathleen Hirning, CIO of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, said that while her agency also has been dealing with budget cutbacks and increased workload, funds for training have not been affected because energy deregulation has forced the agency to become even more dependent on technology and automated systems.

"What we've had to do is really work at aggressively re-engineering and streamlining," Hirning said. "We have recognized that in order to accomplish these changes, we had to allocate budget for these core competencies [outlined by the CIO Council]. We have got to educate in order to get us those changes; there was no other choice."

John Bouck, senior evaluator at the General Accounting Office and a member of the committee, noted that the lack of funding and other current diverting priorities have prevented some agencies from meeting all the training requirements.

"Most of the CIOs are up to their eyeballs in Y2K," he said. "While they consider [training] to be a high priority...it's hard for them to do too much without a budget. We hope to give them guidance so they don't have to reinvent the wheel."

The struggle to find the funds for training also may be the result of the government's overall struggle to compete with the attractive salaries that the private sector offers to technology workers, said Lauren Brownstein, vice president of work-force development at the Information Technology Association of America. Brownstein said the government is so desperate to find people with technical skills that looking for candidates with skills in project management often may become a low priority.


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