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Posted by on Feb 16, 2016

A New Prescription to Cure What Ails Federal Program Management?

A New Prescription to Cure What Ails Federal Program Management?

House, SenateIn December of 2008 the now defunct Council for Excellence in Government, presented a report entitled “Delivering Program Results: Improving Government Performance and Delivery”.

(Note: Not to be confused with the recent report of a similar name from NAPA and PMI. My colleague wrote on that late last year.)

This report capped an eight month study of Program Managers in the Federal government. The report was commissioned by the Office of Management and Budget’s then Deputy Director for Management, Mr. Clay Johnson III. The steering committee of the study was headed by Venable’s Rob Burton, former Deputy Administrator at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, and included members from several Federal agencies, The Council for Excellence in Government, The Professional Services Council, and several industry firms (including myself and another colleague at Management Concepts) with deep knowledge of Federal programs and management.

The report made several recommendations:

  • Establish or change existing policies to clarify responsibility and accountability for delivery of program results
  • Improve oversight and management of agency performance through legislation and executive branch actions
  • Establish Federal program management as a career field and recruit, sustain, and retain talent and expertise in program management

The report was issued in the waning days of the Bush administration and consequently soon forgotten in the transition. Those of us on the steering committee felt strongly about the leisurely manner in which program managers were selected, tasked, and supported based on the feedback we obtained from those serving in these positions. After all, these people were responsible for 95% of the government’s expenditures through their programs. More importantly, they still are!

Fast forward and we’re in the waning days of yet another administration and along comes Senate Bill 1550 (Program Management Improvement Accountability Act of 2015) and its companion, House Resolution 2144 (Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act of 2015), hereinafter referred to as PMIAA. As that baseball great Casey Stengel once opined, “It’s Deja Vu all over again.” The House Resolution was introduced on April 30, 2015 and referred to committee where it now languishes with the Senate Bill that was introduced in June 2015 and passed by the Senate on November 19, 2015.

The two bills are virtually identical as both are designed to “establish entities tasked with improving program and project management in Federal agencies, and for other purposes.” I believe many of us would agree that this is sorely needed. The major difference between the two bills is the Senate version inserted “certain” before “Federal agencies” to exclude the Department of Defense as the provisions are “substantially similar to provisions in Title 10.”

Interestingly, the PMIAA amends Title 31 of the US Code which applies to all Executive Branch entities. These “certain Federal agencies” (interpret that to mean non-DoD organizations) would be subject to the Act’s provisions which are (in summary):

  • OMB Deputy Director for Management shall:
    • Adopt governmentwide standards for Program and Project Management
    • Oversee implementation of standards, policies, and guidelines
    • Establish and chair a Program Management Policy Council comprised of the Program Management Improvement Officer from each agency, five OMB executives by position (from The Office of Performance and Personnel Management, Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Office of E-Government and Information Technology, as well as OMB’s Controller and Deputy Director for Management), and others as appropriate. Council shall meet not less than twice per fiscal year. And it will review “programs as identified as high risk by GAO
    • Establish a five-year strategic plan for Project and Program Management
  • Agency heads will designate a “senior executive” as the Program Management Improvement Officer who shall:
    • Implement the agency’s program management policies
    • Develop a strategy for enhancing the role of program managers within the agency to include:
      • Enhanced training and educational opportunities for:
        • Relevant competencies
        • Training in cost containment
      • Mentoring by experienced senior executives and project managers in the agency
      • Improved career paths
      • Recruit and retain highly qualified individuals
      • Improved means of collecting and disseminating best practices

The timeline is very aggressive:

  • No later than one year after the enactment of this Act, OMB shall issue the standards, policies, and guidelines required by the Act.
  • No later than 90 days after the above action OMB shall issue any regulations as are necessary.
  • No later than 180 days from when the standards, policies, and guidelines are issued (by OMB’s OPPM) OPM will issue regulations that:
    • Identify key skills and competencies needed by PPMs (Program and Project Managers)
    • Establish a new job series, or update existing ones, for PPMs
    • Establish a new career path for agency PPMs
  • No later than one year after enactment, OMB shall submit a report to Congress on the strategy developed.
  • No later than three years after enactment GAO shall issue, in conjunction with the GAO High Risk list, a report on the effectiveness of:
    • The standards, policies, and guidelines for project and program management
    • The five-year strategic plan

What are the chances that it will pass? Well, it’s a Presidential election year so… not good. You can track legislative developments on (they give it a 7% chance in the House.) Will this be on the new President’s 100-day plan? I doubt it; better performance makes for good copy but hardly ever translates into quick action. However, neither the current administration nor the target agencies should need an Act of Congress to implement this or a similar program right now. I encourage them to consider doing so. After all, both pieces of legislation have bipartisan support in both chambers and the vote in the Senate was unanimous. How often does that happen?

A rather large question remains. What would passage mean for the OFPP FAC-P/PM certification program?


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