Federal Program Management Gets a Boost

In February of last year, we highlighted a new legislative effort to improve Federal management of programs called the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act (PMIAA) of 2015. This Act would amp up the Federal effort by formalizing the role that Program Managers play in Federal operations through a series of directed actions.

Among the various actions President Obama took in the final days of his administration was to sign the new Program Management Improvement Accountability Act into law on December 14, 2016.

As with the PMIAA 2015 version, this effort adds language to Section 503 in Title 31 of the U.S. Code, which applies to all Executive Branch entities (Defense excepted).

Here’s a quick summary of actions the Office of Management and Budget and Agencies are assigned by the change:

  • OMB Deputy Director for Management shall:

    • Adopt governmentwide standards for program and project management
    • Oversee implementation of program and project management standards, policies, and guidelines
    • Establish and chair a Program Management Council comprised of the Program Management Improvement Officer from each Agency, five OMB executives by position (DDM, OPPM, OFFM, OFPP, and E-Gov), and others as appropriate. The council shall meet not less than twice per fiscal year and it will review “programs identified as high risk by GAO.”
    • Establish a 5-year strategic plan for PPM
  • 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 (private sector) competencies
        • Training in cost containment
      • Mentoring by experienced senior executives and PMs in the agency
      • Improved career paths and career opportunities
      • Plan to recruit and retain highly qualified individuals to fill PM roles
      • Improved means of collecting and disseminating best practices to enhance program management across the agency
  • The Program Management Policy Council will be the principal interagency forum for improving agency practices related to program and project management and shall:

    • Advise and assist the DDM
    • Review programs identified as high risk by GAO and recommend actions
    • Discuss topics of importance to the workforce, including:
    • Advise on the development and applicability of standards, governmentwide, for program management transparency
    • Review information published on the OMB website on Transparency of Programs, Priority Goals, and Results

The legislation has a very aggressive timeline:

  • No less than 1 year after the enactment of this Act, OMB shall issue the standards, policies, and guidelines required by the Act.
  • No less than 90 days after the above action, OMB shall issue any regulations as are necessary.
  • No less 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 less than 1 year after enactment, OMB shall submit a report to Congress on the Strategy developed.
  • No less than 3 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 PPM
    • The 5-year strategic plan
    • The designated Program Management Improvement Officers
    • The Program Management Council

These timelines will be particularly challenging as President Trump’s administration is just beginning to assemble and mobilize their team and is dealing with very challenging issues that might divert their attention from this new program. However, with all the campaign rhetoric around making government work better, ensuring that individuals leading Federal programs are properly skilled and supported would seem to be one of the first steps in achieving those goals.

These actions are a big step in the right direction and are sorely needed to professionalize the practice of program management in the Federal workforce. One challenge, among many for implementation of PMIAA, is recognizing that managing Federal programs (which tend to be very large and complex – Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and other such endeavors) are very different from managing projects in the Federal environment (which range from very small to very large procurements, operational functions, and similar activities).

How the newly established Program Management Council differentiates and distinguishes between “Programs”, “Portfolios”, and “Projects” should be a lively discussion, as should the discussion of the evolution of the OFPP/FAI Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers.

2017 is promising to be an interesting year!

Cleve Pillifant contributed to this post.

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