How Government Can Get Better at Managing Big Programs


Even as federal agencies take on ever more complicated endeavors, they have been slow to adopt program management techniques common in the private sector, a new report concludes.

“Large complex change initiatives have become a major feature of agencies once associated with the most routine production operations, whether it be delivering benefits or collecting statistical data,” the report stated. Still, the panel of experts who completed the study concluded, “with the exception of [the Defense Department] and some civilian agencies, such as NASA and the Department of Energy, program management capabilities are generally weak, with some pockets of strength in individual agencies.”

The report was prepared by the National Academy of Public Administration and sponsored by the Project Management Institute.

The expert panel listed seven conditions necessary to institutionalize program management as a discipline in government:

  • An integrated approach to the development of governmentwide program management policy and oversight of agency implementation.
  • Agency leadership support for program management.
  • Integration of program management into strategic planning, goal-setting and performance improvement processes.
  • Clearly established roles and responsibilities of agency executives and stakeholders in program management processes.
  • A strong, senior-level program management organization in agencies.
  • A governmentwide job series for program managers that spans business functions with a career path that extends into the senior career executive management ranks.
  • An organization bringing together senior program management officials from across the government to advise on governmentwide policy, share leading practices, and oversee the development of expert program management resources.

The proposed 2015 Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act (HR 2144)  addresses some of these issues, including the creation of a job series and career path for program managers. The report endorsed the legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Todd Young, R-Ind. The measure also would require each agency to designate a program management improvement officer.

In addition to backing the legislation, the NAPA panel recommended that the Office of Management and Budget make implementing program management techniques a governmentwide priority goal and that the President’s Management Council regularly focus on program management issues.

“Successful adoption of program management would enable the government to more consistently and efficiently achieve public purposes, save taxpayer dollars, enhance service delivery, and perhaps most importantly, rebuild public trust,” the report concluded.

(Image via TijanaM/

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