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Golden Hammer: Feds spend millions to train executives in luxury
Question of the Day
A stay at a quaint inn nestled in the woods of Virginia. A visit to the lovely Harvard campus in Massachusetts. A trip to the ski slopes in the mountains of Colorado.
All on the taxpayer’s dime.
In fact, over four years the federal government spent $57 million to send top-level executives to training sessions — often hosted by private organizations at comfortable locales. The hope was that those at the top echelons of government would be able to improve their skills, hone efficiency and become better managers.
But federal investigators say few agencies questioned whether the training sessions were worth it and whether the executives were actually learning anything that applied to their jobs.
“The cost of these training sessions has raised questions about the value they provide to the federal workforce,” the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog arm, said in a report released this week.
The departments collect feedback from executives on how to improve the meetings, but few have followed federal statutes requiring them to look at whether the training meetings are helping the executives be better government employees.
“A majority of agencies do not have a formal process for evaluating the impact of training on the agency’s performance goals and mission,” the GAO said.
For letting top executives take expensive trips without having any idea whether the excursions benefit taxpayers, the federal government’s various agencies and departments win this week’s Golden Hammer, a distinction given by The Washington Times to examples of fiscal waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement.
The $57 million is a guess from filed federal reports, but the GAO noted that “agencies lack complete and reliable data on the cost of external executive training and are likely underreporting costs.” Several agencies did not report travel expenses or the costs of course materials, investigators said, noting that it has been seven years since agencies were required to report their actual expenses for the conferences.
In an era of fiscal belt-tightening, spending on meetings has come under increased scrutiny, especially after it was revealed that the General Services Administration spent $823,000 on a lavish conference in Las Vegas in 2010 that included food, drink, entertainment and souvenirs.
The most common training sessions were for the Office of Personnel Management. The GAO said the agency needs to develop guidelines to better evaluate whether training is effective and require departments to report the costs of the programs.
“By not establishing a timeframe for improving the reliability of executive training cost data, OPM may be missing an opportunity to better position itself to hold agencies accountable for improving the data,” investigators said.
OPM officials said they agree with the GAO and have taken steps that include publishing a step-by-step guide on how to assess the worthiness of training programs along with suggestions for reducing costs.
“OPM is actively involved in assisting agencies in evaluating the impact of executive training,” a response from the agency said. “OPM understands the potential efficiencies and has hosted several executive development programs,” including several at no cost to other departments.
GAO investigators spoke with several officials in charge of personnel for their departments who said that some of the best ways to reduce the cost and time of training were to either conduct it within the agency or explore options to do it online.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Phillip Swarts is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times, covering fiscal waste, fraud and political ethics. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and previously worked as an investigative reporter for the Washington Guardian. Phillip can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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