OMB focuses on project execution

A new survey shows that federal agencies and their contractors are not hurrying to comply with Office of Management and Budget directives to use earned value management (EVM), a discipline that experts say puts an added project planning burden on federal agencies.

Norman Enger, program director of the human resources line of business initiative at the Office of Personnel Management, said the difficulty of using EVM is equal to its value. "This is not an Excel-type tool," he said.

But after a year preparing, OPM began using EVM software in September to manage five e-government projects and a governmentwide human resources project.

Much of the difficulty involved integrating EVM data into OPM's financial management system, Enger said. "This is the kind of integration that takes a lot of time, a lot of culture change," he said. "It takes months and months to really make this work effectively."

A representative of Primavera Systems, which sells EVM software, delivered a similar message to federal managers attending a Nov. 3 industry seminar in Washington, D.C. Joel Capperella, a public sector market manager at Primavera, said agencies could face significant obstacles in achieving the value of EVM. Primavera conducted a survey that found that senior agency managers are unfamiliar with and not especially interested in EVM and federal employees lack EVM training.

Experienced project managers who use EVM say it is different from the project management tools that most federal agencies have been using. "For a long time, we've measured cost, expenditures and where we are on a schedule," said Jeff Breunig, an account executive for Transportation Department projects at ICF Consulting Group.

"It's been harder to put those cost expenditures against what has been done so far," Breunig added. "We're 50 percent through the time, 50 percent through the budget, but we don't know if we've got 50 percent of the project done." EVM answers that last question, he said.

EVM won't be a mystery to federal managers much longer. OMB has told agencies they have until Dec. 31 to create policies for using EVM to reduce the risks inherent in large information technology projects.

All federal agencies should be using EVM as businesses have been doing for years, said Tim Young, OMB's associate administrator for e-government and IT. He said federal agencies will get more value out of a proposed $65 billion IT budget for fiscal 2006 if they use EVM as one of their project management tools.

Unlike other federal agencies, the Defense Department has used EVM for years to control spending and deadlines for large aircraft carrier projects, Young said.

The value of EVM is that it lets managers make better decisions and avoid undue costs or project failures, Enger said. Managers can foresee trouble and take corrective action, rather than suddenly realizing they're over budget, he said.

Enger added a caveat, however. He said using EVM properly puts a considerable burden on team members to plan and schedule projects -- skills often in short supply at federal agencies.

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