GAO: State could get more bang out of training buck

Thursday - 3/10/2011, 4:14pm EST

Jess Ford, director of International Affairs and Trade Issues, GAO

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When budgets get tight, training tends to be one of the first things to go. But the State Department - with employees sometimes working in hostile environments overseas - could be putting employees at risk if it skimps on training.

In fiscal year 2010, the department spent $255 million on training alone, according to the Government Accountability Office evaluation of State's training programs.

State's spending on training will only increase as the department gets set to take a bigger role in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Jess Ford, director of International Affairs and Trade Issues at the GAO, in an interview with the DorobekINSIDER.

But constrained budgets are forcing State to zero in on high priority training areas, something the department cannot do now because it does not have a comprehensive process for assessing training, Ford said.

"At the end of the day, we don't want to be sending people - particularly overseas in hostile environments - into a situation where they don't have the basic, fundamental skill sets," he said.

Ford described the current training as "ad hoc." For example, the Foreign Service has a training plan but the civil service does not, he said.

State's Foreign Service Institute is the main training provider for the department's more than 66,000 Foreign Service, civil service and locally employed staff worldwide.

The institute provides more than 700 courses in the Washington area alone and more than 2,000 internationally, including foreign language and technical training, Ford said. GAO did not have any criticism of how FSI addressed training, he said.

One area that could expand throughout State is use of distance learning, an option that makes sense for a workforce spread out over 250 foreign posts. State "may be able to get more bang for the buck using distance learning over classroom training," Ford said.

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