Friday, October 25, 2019

$300 Thousand Wasted on Useless Training

Do you think training is important? Do you think continuing education is important? Is there real value in remedial training?

The Government thinks so. Read any report by GAO (Government Accountability Office) covering the effectiveness, efficiency, or economy of a program, service, or contract and invariably, it will include a recommendation for more training. Same goes to reports by various OIG (Office of Inspector General) organizations. Even DCAA (Defense Contract Audit Agency) recommends more training whenever they find internal controls deficiencies in one of the few business systems the organization audits these days.

As if more training is going to solve whatever problems have been identified. Here's some examples:

  • Contractor employees didn't fill out their timecards properly or on time - they need more training.
  • An interviewer said something naughty during an employment interview - the entire organization needs more training.
  • Congress passed a law prohibiting retaliation against whistleblowers - train everyone on how not to retaliate against whistleblowers.
  • A contracting officer didn't check all the boxes she was supposed to check prior to awarding a contract - the entire organization needs more training.

Recommendations for more training are lazy recommendations. The auditor or evaluator doesn't need to drill down to root causes why something didn't happen the way it should have or the way the process was designed. Why don't employees fill out their timecards correctly? Is it from lack of training? Probably not. It doesn't take any particular skill to fill out a timecard. There must be some other reason.

One of the problems that organizations have when trying to solve a problem with more training is that they come up with a half-baked training plan, throw it at the people. The organization is happy because they can now check a box saying they've complied with a recommendation. And the trainers are happy because they collect their money.

A recent article published by POGO (Project on Government Oversight) illustrates the problem when the training is motivated by an arbitrary timeline rather than a well thought out curriculum.

The VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) opened an accountability office to change the Agency's culture of retaliation against whistleblowers, The article is interesting in that it points to a lot of mismanagement in the organization. But the salient point to this article is that the number two guy in the organization demanded that its staff be trained by a certain date so that the number one guy, scheduled for Congressional testimony one month later, could state honestly that everyone had been trained.

What transpired after that was a sole-source contract for the training that was ultimately cobbled together from other sources including VA materials, much of it that wasn't even on subject-matter, conducted by individuals who obviously didn't know the materials even though they were subject-matter experts who read from scripts.
There wasn't anything in the training that was remotely relevant or useful. one attendee reported. It was like nothing I've ever seen, and I've been in Government for 20 years, another reported.
At one point, attendees had to correct instructors who didn't know the legal definition of a whistleblower had changed in 2017.
You could feel the hostility in the room, an attendee recounted, as the instructors struggled to exert control over the training and respond to questions from increasingly frustrated attendees.
Whenever we see or hear of recommendations that more training is needed to solve a problem, we just roll our eyes and read on to see if the report includes other recommendations to show the auditor/evaluator even understood the root cause and had precise or specific solutions to correct whatever deficiency had been cited.

You can read the full POGO article here.

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