Senators Offer Plan to Streamline Program Management

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is the chief sponsor. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, is the chief sponsor. Evan Vucci/AP

Agency program managers equipped with management practices from high-performing private-sector organizations could go far in heading off wasteful spending, two senators said on Thursday as they introduced the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act.

The bill (S. 1550) would streamline “efforts and outlines strategies to correct widespread deficiencies, lax oversight and unnecessary costs incurred by preventable delays in meeting stated program goals and deadlines,” said chief sponsor Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, citing recent Government Accountability Office reports on lax cost and schedule baselines in a Defense Department information systems program. “These much-needed reforms ensure that taxpayer dollars are safeguarded by increasing accountability throughout the federal government.”

Co-sponsor Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., grouped the bill in with her earlier “Red Tape Initiative” to curb burdensome regulations, saying it “builds on this initiative by promoting more responsibility and oversight among our federal managers, helping them improve their programs, reducing government waste, and making the government work better.”

Too often, the senators argued, agencies “waste up to billions of dollars to fix a problem that could have otherwise been identified from the onset if program management best practices were used.” Among the best practices the bill would implement are certification of management competencies to hold program managers accountable. “This legislation leaves current organizational structures in place and gives agencies the flexibility they need to fix this problem,” the senators said. 

A companion bill (H.R. 2144) was introduced in April by Reps. Todd Young, R-Ind., and Gerry Connolly, D-Va.

Organizationally, the bill would require the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget to create a Program Management Policy Council and to direct agencies to appoint program management improvement officers. The Office of Personnel Management would be required to identify relevant skill sets and create related job classifications for program and project management.

The council and the appointees would then:

  • Adopt and oversee governmentwide standards, policies, and guidelines for program and project agencies;
  • Issue regulations and establish standards and policies for agencies in accordance with nationally accredited standards for program and project management planning and delivery issues;
  • Conduct portfolio reviews of high-risk programs; and,
  • Develop a five-year strategic plan for program and project management, to be submitted to Congress and OMB by the head of each agency.

Mark Langley, president and CEO of the nonprofit Project Management Institute, told Government Executive that much of the bill’s content was based on his organization’s long-time research. The bill’s policy reforms, he said, “will provide the necessary first and foundational steps in meeting the core challenges that often result in cost overruns and delays on critical projects governmentwide. …It will lead to increased collaboration, improved decision making and reduced risk throughout the federal government.”

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