Federal agencies will now be able to buy software tools to track workers' training requests and learning results at governmentwide contract prices.
The government acquired the ability to track learning in July, when the Office of Personnel Management awarded 63 e-training contracts worth up to $225 million.
Using information technology to track federal employee training and its effect on productivity has been a major objective of the Bush administration's e-Training initiative, according to federal and industry officials familiar with it.
Widespread use of the new contracts could make federal agencies leading buyers in an emerging market for employee performance management systems, said Scott Byrnes, communications director at Plateau Systems, an e-learning company that won two of the contracts.
The initiative's online home is USALearning, a Web portal to which OPM plans to add an analytics server. The agency will use the server to aggregate and report agency-level and governmentwide data on employee skills and training.
"The analytics server will measure basic course feedback and user job performance improvement," said Carla Coolman, an OPM spokeswoman.
Among its features, the portal links required skills and training opportunities for employees interested in the GS-2210 occupational series of IT management jobs.
Some industry officials say federal agencies are ahead of many corporations in introducing employee performance management systems.
"The government is probably at the tip of the spear on this," Byrnes said. "The President's Management Agenda is driving federal agencies to get more aggressive about deploying these capabilities." Byrnes added that e-training is an important item on Bush's agenda.
The agenda's foundation is "a desire to make individuals and organizations more productive and accountable," Byrnes said. Having the analytical tools is a big part of it, he added.
A primary purpose of the initiative is to help agencies prepare for 2010, when more than 70 percent of full-time federal employees will be eligible for early or full retirement. Taking steps to make remaining employees more productive is one way of dealing with the retirement exodus, according to Forrester Research analysts in a recent series of reports.
Several Cabinet-level and independent agencies, including NASA, the Agriculture Department, the National Science Foundation and the Transportation Department, are beginning to rely on employee performance management systems as part of their succession planning efforts, said Rick Lohmar, vice president of federal sales at Plateau Systems. Others expect to do so when the new fiscal year begins.
But industry experts say the initiative's effectiveness will depend on how well OPM promotes the new capabilities available through USALearning. "As with anything, you have to have a public relations and marketing campaign," said Reggie Smith, a member of the board of directors of the U.S. Distance Learning Association and chairman of its Public Policy Committee.
Created to advise OPM leaders on the initiative, the e-Training Advisory Council held its first meeting last month. The council is made up of 24 representatives from Cabinet-level and other federal agencies.
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