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GAO questions metrics of training effectiveness for contracting staffs

Apr. 16, 2013 - 05:42PM   |  
By JIM McELHATTON   |   Comments

The federal government spends tens of millions of dollars to train contracting officials each year, but agencies don’t always know whether all the coursework is making a difference, the Government Accountability Office said in a report Tuesday.

GAO found that while agencies do obtain training for contracting officials to meet federal certification requirements, efforts vary widely across government and some agencies have no metrics to measure improved skills or agency performance.

GAO undertook the review citing the billions of dollars in contracts that procurement officials oversee each year and the need to keep the acquisition workforce well trained. The Office of Management and Budget has certification requirements for contracting staff, contracting officer’s representatives and program and project managers.

Training budgets reported by agencies included in the GAO review ranged from $0 to almost $40 million. And the size of workforces spanned from 186 employees to more than 11,000. The report did not identify the specific department, however, and GAO officials were not immediately available.

The report found most agencies outsource their training to external sources such as the Federal Acquisition Institute or the Defense Acquisition University, but some don’t collect or assess end-of-course evaluations.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said the report highlights needed improvements in training programs across government.

“With the federal government spending over half a trillion dollars per year on contracts, there is a lot that can go wrong if agencies do not have skilled professionals who are trained to make sure that the government buys no more than it actually needs, and at the best prices,” he said in a statement.

In its recommendations, the GAO said that OMB’s Office Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), in consultation with the Federal Acquisition Institute, should provide more guidance to agencies on how to calculate their training budgets.

GAO also recommended that agencies collect and analyze participant evaluations after all acquisition training sessions to help assess the benefits.

The report said one of the biggest problems in gauging the effectiveness of training across government is the lack of consistency among agencies.

In its response, OFPP told GAO that there is a central, government-wide information training system called the FAI Training Application System (FAITAS), but agencies use it on a voluntary basis. But that soon could change.

“Recognizing the potential benefits of this system in helping to coordinate and evaluate the use of training resources government-wide, OFPP stated that it is considering making FAITAS reporting mandatory for civilian agencies,” the report stated.

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