Grassley questions costs of SES training

The SES courses are 460 percent more than private universities and over 1,000 percent more than most public universities, Grassley wrote.

A senior senator has asked the Office of Personnel Management and several institutions to find out how much money the government pays to train its highest level employees. The action came after he found the government doesn’t have the total amount spent for executive training.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, wrote a letter to OPM Director John Berry on May 26 about training costs. According to the letter, the cost for each of the two four-week Senior Executive Service (SES) courses is much more expensive than amounts charged by private and public universities. The SES courses are 460 percent more expensive than what an average four-year private university charges for one month for tuition, fees, and room and board, Grassley said. Also, the government pays more than 1,000 percent more than what a public university charges, he said.

“Although I am a strong proponent of maintaining a well-trained, highly competent federal workforce, I am alarmed by what appears to be the excessive costs related to these programs,” Grassley wrote. He sent similar letters to OPM’s Federal Executive Institute, the Center for Creative Leadership and Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

In a statement, Grassley said he learned that OPM does not collect complete information on how many federal employees participate in these training activities, or how much the government pays each year for the training. Grassley said OPM does not compare this training to other types of training that may be available elsewhere at a lower price.

Grassley said numerous federal agencies are spending a lot of money on executive education, although much of the training is for the SES corps, the most senior career jobs. SES employees are handed a lot of responsibilities, often in key positions just below top presidential appointees. In those jobs, they often are viewed as an essential link between the appointees and the rest of the federal workforce.

“So the importance of insuring that the SES corps is well-trained is not at issue,” Grassley wrote. “However, my questions relate to the cost of that training and whether or not more effective, efficient and economical ways exist to train SES candidates.”

Grassley asked Berry if OPM has evaluated the SES training costs and if his office tells other agencies to look at cost. He also asked if the government looks for alternative ways that cost less.

“In light of the fact that numerous universities offer online instruction, is OPM giving consideration to having any portion of SES training completed online?” Grassley asked.

In letters to the three institutions that offer SES training, he asked for information on the number of monthly attendees and what agencies pay for the training. He also wants to know how much money they received monthly.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Fri, Aug 6, 2010 Ken

Mr. Grassley might find it useful to compare SES training expenses to the training expenses for the executive groups of large corporations, since those two groups would be expected to have similar concerns and responsibilities.

Mon, Jun 14, 2010 Chris

This does not sound like an Apples to Apples comparision. Universities spread their teaching out over time, usually in chucks of 3 hours per week, plus homework, . Federal workforce training is usually 8 to 10 hrs per day (plus homework) for one or two weeks. The cost per month is not a fair comparison of the cost per hour of instruction. One month in a standard university class gets you a quarter of the way through four quarter long class (48 hrs of instruction and not done with any). One month concentrated federal training can get you through four forty hour long classes (160 hrs of instruction). Over three times (333%) as many instructional hours per month.

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