Editorial: Time well spent

It has been refreshing in recent months to hear from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Federal Financial Management, Government Information and International Security Subcommittee. Coburn is a relatively new — but welcome — voice on government management issues.

Coburn was one of the main sponsors of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which was signed into law by President Bush last week. That law requires the government to create an easy-to-use Web site that will allow citizens to track the recipients of all contracts and grants. We have been big proponents of transparency, and we look forward to seeing how this legislation is implemented. The database legislation was an important action from Coburn, who has started to wade into government management issues. Most lawmakers show little interest in management issues. Those issues do not draw votes in re-election campaigns, and yet they are important because they are essential for good government.

That being said, we were a bit concerned when Coburn made comments about the amount of money agencies spend sending employees to conferences. Specifically, he praised the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency for issuing agency directives on how to reduce travel to conferences. Those directives emphasize greater use of e-mail and videoconferencing.

Coburn also cited examples of alleged waste, fraud or abuse.

Nobody favors waste. Coburn is playing a necessary role as a watchdog, and organizations that select conferences based on their locations rather than the content ought to be taken to task. Government employees should attend only conferences and training that can be justified.

But it is also important not to eliminate conferences as a venue for education and training, which too often is the first thing cut amid budget tightening. Because a conference is held at a nice location or government employees take a vacation day or two afterward does not mean the content is not worthwhile.

We should note that Federal Computer Week’s parent company, FCW Media Group, has an events business. That disclosure notwithstanding, conference and training are important for government employees. This week’s feature story on IT security training is just one example. Conferences can provide federal employees an opportunity to think in new and innovative ways and talk to other organizations about how they do business.

Education and training are touted as the way to effect change in organizations. In today’s world, where people are tied to their BlackBerries, there are too few opportunities to take a step back and look at how government conducts business. That is time well spent.


About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.

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