New Law Aims To Cut Red Tape

But vacancies in the White House budget office threaten to slow the law’s implementation.

An Obama-enacted law aimed at strengthening federal program management was hailed as “a gift to the Trump administration,” aligning with the president’s mission to cut through bureaucratic red tape and make government more efficient. But achieving the law’s aims may be hampered by vacancies in the White House Office of Management and Budget, which is responsible for implementation.  

Robert Burton, a government contract lawyer and former deputy administrator at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, stressed the financial benefits of the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act, signed by former president Obama in December 2016.  

“This legislation is about increasing efficiency of programs,” said Burton, speaking Wednesday on a Bloomberg Government panel hosted by the Project Management Institute. “It echoes the Trump administration’s goal of [completing projects] ahead of schedule and under budget.”

The law requires OMB and other federal agencies to create positions with the sole responsibility of program management. Few such roles currently exist in government, so program management responsibilities often get delegated to agency officials with other responsibilities, and who sometimes leave in the middle of the project.

A PMI study released early this year found that officials waste $97 million for every $1 billion spent, and only 69 percent of projects end up meeting their original goals. Government and industry experts believe having project management specialists focused on agency programs will speed up implementation and improve overall performance.

The law mandates organizational structures some agencies have had in place for years. Commerce Department Senior Procurement Executive and Director of Acquisition Management Barry Berkowitz said his organization implemented an initiative similar to the PMIAA after facing the collapses of four major programs. Since then, none have failed.

Amy Haseltine, executive director of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of IT Strategy, Policy and Governance, said, “program and project management isn’t new because of the law.”

Though she supports the PMIAA, Haseltine underscored a number of best practices organizations should follow when working on large projects. In addition to encouraging general communication and collaboration, she stressed the importance getting everyone on the same page at the beginning and communicating risk when things go wrong. Doing both will reduce waste and lead to better outcomes later, she said.

Though he thinks the law will benefit agencies overall, Berkowitz said PMIAA “needs more teeth,” and doesn’t provide agencies with strict enough guidelines. He believes it’s crucial for project managers to have a say in creating the budget, for instance, but the law doesn’t require them to be involved in that process.

President Trump has yet to fill many upper-level positions at OMB, including the deputy director of management, who is responsible for enforcing the new legislation. However, Berkowitz said OMB has already begun taking action. Yesterday, he met with officials there for guidance on how to start implementing the plan within Commerce.

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