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Educating the government without breaking the bank

Aug. 25, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By MARK FORMAN   |   Comments

Building and maintaining knowledge among the federal IT workforce has been a long-standing need. Tight budgets seem to always reduce training, even though Congress has passed several laws and conducts oversight intended to force agencies to maintain IT workforce training on technology trends, program management, procurement methods, etc. But, the “new normal” requires agencies to complete more work with less funding, while adapting to furloughs and sequesters.

Additionally, many IT workers are faced with managing legacy applications while figuring out how to migrate to new technologies and service delivery methods being driven by IT reform initiatives, a situation that becomes more complicated as more “Baby Boomers” retire from government, causing a massive loss of knowledge and expertise.

Add to that recent moves to severely limit conference attendance, which has served as a primary vehicle for training in technology and policy trends. There is a growing requirement for professional development, and new approaches must be created.

It is vital not to shortchange the training and professional development of the federal IT workforce:

■Technology is constantly changing. The pace in which technology advances — doubling every 18 to 24 months — is especially critical to government operations because IT is tightly coupled into front and back office processes. Agency employees need to sharpen their skills and keep up to date on the latest trends and advances in technology to ensure security, continuity, efficiency and effectiveness of the government programs they support.

■Educational opportunities promote workforce loyalty. A work environment that enables personal growth and development leads to increased employee performance and satisfaction. Current employees are more likely to stay in their position if they know they are valued, have career growth opportunities and are given access to training needed for success.

■Training improves the government’s ability to complete its mission. Learning environments allow employees to build their individual skills and knowledge. The Government Accountability Office’s Strategic Human Capital Management High Risk discussion highlights the need for better training and lists 13 reports clearly pointing to knowledge gaps in key IT workforce areas such as cybersecurity, program management and procurement.

But how does the government address these needs when, according to a recent survey, 51 percent of government executives indicated that training and workforce development had been cut due to sequestration? And how does industry help close the gap? The answer lies in reshaping and reimagining the approach to government events, such as conferences, with three key principles to keep in mind:

■Cost: The new fiscal environment requires event organizations to reconsider pricing schemes, including offering government complementary education opportunities.

■Content: Programs must offer a mixed environment of subject matter experts, thought leaders and case studies that provide best practices, as well as peer-to-peer interaction.

■Convenience: The days of large-scale events in lavish locations seem to be ending, and new “on-line” virtual conferences have not yielded the promises made several years ago. What government employees need is a comprehensive program that provides educational opportunities to address all of their current pain points — such as cybersecurity, cloud, mobile government and big data in the IT space — in their own backyard: Washington.

Following these three principles enables attendees to get out, get the information they need and get back to the office without the cost or time implications associated with traveling. FOSE 2013 was a prime example of how this new approach works, with the organization recently announcing that this year’s event drew more than 8,000 government and industry attendees. This represented a 115 percent growth in the event’s conference program participation — from 941 to over 2,000 — and a 5 percent increase in executive, command and senior management participation.

According to a FOSE press release, it also resulted in attendee demographic and behavior trends, including:

■An 8 percent increase in attendees from the south Atlantic states, indicating attendees remained local.

■A 13 percent increase in the amount of time spent in the exhibit hall, showing the added value the event provided.

■A 5 percent increase in the show’s attendee verification rate.

Tight budgets and sequestration present significant challenges to government professionals. They still need training to stay current in their jobs and accomplish their missions, they just need that training in a more convenient and cost-effective way. This approach to event management is a step in the right direction.

Mark Forman is co-founder and president of Government Transaction Services and the former administrator of the Office of E-Government and IT at the Office of Management and Budget. He can be reached at

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