DOD receives low marks for IT training tools

While the Pentagon has made computer-based training programs and other technologies a centerpiece of its mammoth acquisition reform initiative, a large percentage of the Defense Department's acquisition work force lacks adequate access to those tools, according to a recent survey.

Over the last several years, DOD has revamped the way it buys everything from bullets to bandages through a series of new policies, regulations and buying strategies. In the process, the department has emphasized the role of technology as a way to train its acquisition workers through satellite-based distance-learning courses or self-guided training sessions.

However, a random survey of 1,377 military and civilian acquisition workers throughout DOD revealed that at least one-third of those workers have no access to computer-based training tools or DOD satellite broadcasts, as well as conferences and other more traditional training programs.

The survey, conducted by McLean, Va.-based Human Technology Inc. on behalf of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, indicates that no one source of information and training is accessible to all acquisition personnel.

However, computer-based training tools, including DOD and military service CD-ROMs, ranked among the sources accessible to the fewest number of people, the report said.

In addition, while DOD's Internet home pages and official memos ranked among the sources accessible to most of the work force, survey respondents commented that not everyone has access to the Internet, and policy memos lacked detail, were out of date and were difficult to interpret.

A spokesman for DOD said that while 75 percent of supervisors in the field are supportive of the department's reform initiatives, DOD acknowledges that improvement is needed.

For example, "the report showed that the accessibility and usefulness of certain media used to communicate acquisition reform initiatives to the work force varies widely," the spokesman said. "Our effectiveness in communicating reform ideas and policies can be improved," he said.

For example, the work force did not consider CD-ROMs to be an effective way to communicate because many workers do not have access to CD-ROM drives.

However, the DOD spokesman said that formal training through the Defense Acquisition University, and training and information communicated over the Internet, were considered very effective.

To help remedy the problem of access to information and training tools, survey participants suggested increasing the availability of training and information to working-level members of the work force; keeping information up to date; making training more interactive; making training materials and tools easier to use; and increasing funding for classes.

Chip Mather, senior vice president of Chantilly, Va.-based Acquisition Solutions Inc., said that while procurement reform has been "wildly successful," acquisition reforms have not been executed at the same rate.

As a result, "acquisitions today have actually suffered and are in many instances less effective than in the past," Mather said. Organizations tend to bypass the upfront acquisition planning and go directly to contract vehicles.

"The success of procurement reform has actually hurt acquisition reform," he said.

Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Information Technology Association of America's Enterprise Solutions Division, said the results of the survey are not surprising, given the short time that has elapsed since the reform effort started, as well as the little amount of money that has been earmarked for training.

"Any time you have a budget crunch, one of the first items cut is training dollars," Grkavac said. "This confirms what we already knew and what we've been hearing: that Congress did not allocate enough funding to train the acquisition work force."

According to Grkavac, the reform effort and the push to enhance the training of the department's acquisition reform work force is still in its early stages. However, "outside of the Beltway [around Washington, D.C.], it takes a fair amount of time before all of the new laws and regulations are absorbed," Grkavac said. "And that means you need to have real-time training."

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