DOD: Building a baseline of competency

For the past decade, the department has had a formal structure for training and certifying project managers, said Charles Tompkins, a professor at National Defense University's Information Resources Management College. Certification is required for all major project managers, he said, guaranteeing a baseline of competency. "With the formal education and certification process, senior managers and [chief information officers] have a little higher level of assurance of the background of the people they are putting in management positions," said Tompkins, acting chairman of the Information Systems Acquisition Department. The requirements stem from the 1991 Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act, which sought to ensure that qualified project managers were leading multimillion-dollar defense projects, he said. Managers must complete general education requirements, including earning a degree in an information technology discipline, completion of formal training courses and logging a given number of years of service in a program. The Information Resources Management (IRM) College's IT project management courses focus on a broad spectrum of management issues, such as assessing project performance and managing cost schedules. They are rolled into a five-day intensive course offered about five times a year, Tompkins said. Although most students are from DOD, about 25 percent hail from other agencies. The courses may come from IRM or other organizations, but the actual certification comes from DOD's commander, Tompkins said. Managers are certified on three levels, depending on the scale of the project. "The practical result of the certification is that you meet the formal prerequisite for promotion to the next position," Tompkins said. "The bigger benefit is to be able to do things smarter." As Office of Management and Budget officials focus on a need for good project managers, other agencies might want to look at DOD's certification program, Tompkins said. "The same benefit would exist for other departments as well," he said. "At DOD — while our mission is unique — many of the things we do day in and day out, particularly in the information technology area, are not so unique. The problems we face are not much different from problems other agencies face."

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