We all like simple, clear, and easy solutions to problems. The U.S. federal government tends to have one tool to solve a problem. Employees cheating on timesheets? Insider threats still a problem? Name your issue, and there’s a training for that, compliments of legislation from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). And it’s not one and done training. It’s annual training on filling out your timesheet that you have filled out successfully for the last 365 days.

Objective for Federal Training

Lest you think I’m against training, know that I’m not. I have had enough instructional designers in my life over the years to know the value of training. But any ISDer worth their salt will also tell you that you have to have a clear assessment of the training needs and objectives to be met, along with a myriad of other steps in the design process. The problem with trainings for federal employees is that the objective of the training is to check a box. Insider threats are a problem. And the federal government responds with a training in order to say that the need has been met. We may know the problem, but we never spent time finding the best way to actually address it.

When federal employees have to go through over 30 trainings in one year, it becomes a massive waste of time. Not every employee has that level of mandatory trainings to complete in a year, but the higher you move up the pay scale, the more trainings you take. Gone are the days when everyone files into a conference room for the annual death by Powerpoint. However, are online trainings actually making everything better? When slow IT networks freeze and timeout or an “interactive” training can’t load the graphics, you have to start wondering why the federal government has a hard time hiring.

Example of Training for Federal Employees

Without adding supervisor trainings to the list, which add at least an additional 15 annual trainings, many federal employees have over 15 to complete each year. Here’s an example of some of the trainings:

  • PII Awareness
  • Records Management
  • Ethics
  • Sexual Assault Prevention and Response
  • Combating Trafficking in Persons
  • Workplace Violence Prevention
  • Level 1 Antiterrorism Awareness
  • Time and Attendance
  • Defense Travel System
  • Travel Card
  • Counterintelligence Awareness
  • SCI Annual Refresher
  • Cyber Awareness
  • Anti-Harassment
  • Information Security
  • No Fear

That list is not exhaustive and could vary depending on the agency. However, for federal employees at the supervisory level, completing things like the basic Defense Travel System training, also means a supervisor level training on approving employee travel. Supervisors also have trainings on things like hiring talent, dealing with whistleblowers, and even telework trainings – all adding up to well over 30 trainings/year.

Need a Bigger Solution

I’m sure every federal employee has trainings that they would cut from the list if they were in charge for a day. But the reality is that many of the issues require a response. Cyber awareness or OPSEC training could actually be helpful. With ransomware on the rise and OPSEC violations still a thing, employees need to be prepared on what to do and how to respond. The challenge is that in an entity so large like the federal government, everyone likes a measurable way to say that the problem is being solved. Unfortunately, the solution weakens employee morale, damages retention, and impacts hiring capabilities. Avoiding situations like the case of Fat Leonard isn’t solved with a simple click-through training on ethics every year.

The federal government may never overhaul its training system (I’m a realist). But at a minimum, offering liberal pre-test options, fast forward capabilities, and systems that run on any browser and don’t crash on their employees could be a decent start. Not requiring a high score on a pretest can go a long way in keeping employees engaged. Let them look at the questions missed, and then let them move on. Of course, if you just want to check a box and not really worry about whether or not learning happened, keep making employees click through every single training, all while they question what exactly they even like about their job.


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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.