Magazine article Government Finance Review

Investing in People in a Post-Scandal World: Government Travel Is Being Cut, but Not All Travel Is as Wasteful as GSA's Was. Training and Development Are Essential to Organizational Effectiveness

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Investing in People in a Post-Scandal World: Government Travel Is Being Cut, but Not All Travel Is as Wasteful as GSA's Was. Training and Development Are Essential to Organizational Effectiveness

Article excerpt

Several months ago, Philip Joyce wrote a column about a recent scandal at the U.S. General Services Administration (Lessons from an Over the Top Scandal, published April 25, 2012, on Governing.com), discussing the lessons that it might hold. The main point was that the problems uncovered at the federal agency serve as a reminder about the importance of due diligence in the management of public resources in general and contracts more specifically. If the management problems at GSA help other organizations apply better practices, then at least something positive comes from this unfortunate experience.

The scandal over GSA's lavish Las Vegas conference seems to be having another effect, however, and one substantially less positive. It involves the chilling effect that such a high-profile, highly questionable expenditure of funds may exert on training and development activities for government agencies. This effect may be compounded in an era of budgetary stringency. An early indicator of this came in May 2012, when Jeffrey Zients, director of the Office of Management and Budget, announced that every federal agency would be required to spend 30 percent less on travel in fiscal year 2013 and to maintain that level of travel spending through fiscal 2016. Agencies are scrambling to establish procedures to comply with these new strictures.

Training and development (T&D) and travel are not synonymous, and in an era of large budget deficits, travel is one of many areas where less money could be spent. In highly dispersed agencies, however, T&D (whether individual or team) often requires travel. Particularly for agencies that are geographically dispersed and/or rely on highly specialized talent, travel restrictions may well mean cutting back on T&D. Historically, T&D is among the first activities to get cut in times of budgetary challenges. This has been true across the private and public sectors, so there is every reason to believe that public managers are excising T&D from their budgets as you read this.

Training results in skill-building. Development, a broader concept, enhances competencies (and may incorporate skill-building). Both are essential for maintaining capable, motivated, and productive human-capital assets. Underinvesting in human capital is shortsighted, given its defining role in effectiveness. This is particularly true with government's looming retirements, poor public image, declining resources, and changing performance requirements all putting pressure on personnel across all levels of government.

The Zients directive just adds a political challenge to a preexisting budgetary one. Managers may hesitate to implement T&D, but effectiveness requires managers to ensure sufficient investment in human capital to accomplish agency mission. There is evidence out there about how to accomplish this within a framework of sufficient due diligence.

Be Clear about the Purpose. A conference can be defined as "a meeting to confer about a topic." On the face of it, conferences don't pass the T&D return smell test, right? …

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