Hard-hit federal training gets Obama’s attention

President Obama speaks to the members of the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room at the White House on Feb. 24, 2014. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
President Obama speaks to the members of the National Governors Association in the State Dining Room at the White House on Feb. 24, 2014. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

When President Obama presents his 2015 fiscal year budget proposal Tuesday, he’ll serve an appetizer to a crucial area of government that has been on a starvation diet: federal employee training.

The administration isn’t saying how large its initiative is, but it would take big serving to get training where it needs to be.

“The president’s budget proposal will include measures to improve federal employee training and support and exchange of training ideas across government,” Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Katherine Archuleta told a National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) legislative conference Friday. “We need to learn from one another about what works. We need to be able to talk about our successes.”

That could be a relatively short conversation given the way training has been slashed by recent budget cuts and overreaction to federal employee conference scandals.

Look at the Internal Revenue Service.

The IRS is one place that should get fat during a period of austerity, because the revenue it collects feeds everything else in government. Citing the IRS, NTEU said every dollar invested in tax enforcement programs returns at least four.

The agency was ridiculed after a $4 million Anaheim, Calif., conference in 2010 that featured a “Star Trek” video parody. Ramifications continue. The decline in IRS training is staggering.

According to the IRS’s National Taxpayer Advocate 2013 Annual Report to Congress, submitted by Nina E. Olson:

  • The IRS training budget was cut by more than 85 percent from fiscal year 2009 to FY2013
  • In 2013 less than $250 per employee was spent on training, an 83 percent reduction from the $1,450 spent in 2009.

Most operating divisions dealing directly with taxpayers “fared worse than the agency as a whole,” Olson’s Taxpayer Advocate Service found.

  • The appeals division training budget fell from $6 million in 2009 to $250,000 in 2013, a 96 percent drop.
  • Training in the small business/self-employed division fell 93 percent.

“Taxpayers seeking assistance and relief from the IRS will find a workforce lacking the knowledge and ability to provide assistance if the IRS continues to meet budgetary obligations by simply not training its employees,” the report said.

Last week, IRS Commissioner John A. Koskinen told a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing he “will do everything possible to ensure that they (employees) have the … training to support them in their work and allow them to reach their full potential to best serve taxpayers.”

But how much is possible with drastic cuts in training dollars?

Read more in the Federal Diary posted online Sunday evening and in Monday’s print editions of The Washington Post.

federaldiary@washpost.com

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about the federal workplace that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012.
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