Feds tout e-learning site for U.S. government workers

The federal government is turning to the Web to help train its 1.9 million employees, a move officials believe will save money and improve productivity and the attractiveness of government services.

“This is modern training,” Mark Forman, who heads IT planning at the White House Office of Management and Budget, said at a news conference Tuesday. “This is as good as any world-class company, perhaps better than most.”

Winning this praise is a new Web-based training site that uses 3-D graphics to direct employees to a preliminary list of 30 online courses, covering such topics as computers, management, customer service and ethics. Many more courses will be added in the months ahead.

The online educational effort is part of a broader e-government initiative to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of government, largely through economies of scale. Training today is typically handled by individual agencies.

The Web site, managed by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, will particularly help agencies with little money for training, said Forman.

Budget reductions have forced many agencies to cut back on training, and some have initiated their own online courses to provide worker training. Basic core courses will be moved to the new Gov Online Learning Center, said officials. Federal agencies may adopt online training in lieu of classroom work “as more entities see what’s available online,” said Norm Enger, the Office of Personnel Management’s e-government project manager.

Despite repeated questions about the project’s cost, federal officials Tuesday were unable to provide any development cost and said funding is coming from a variety of sources, including in-kind services, with no total amount calculated. But they said similar Web sites typically cost a few million dollars.

Government officials also hope that the online effort makes government service more attractive to prospective employees. That’s an especially pressing issue, with upwards of 40 percent of all federal employees eligible for retirement in the next five years.

The online learning center “increases our ability to successfully recruit the talent of top college graduates who will look more favorably on public service if we can answer this common question: ‘What are my opportunities to learn and to grow and to advance?'” said Office of Personnel Management Director Kay Coles James.

“A visit to our virtual learning center clearly demonstrates the federal government’s commitment to providing world-class training opportunities to our employees,” said James.