Miller: Independent oversight works

In recent testimony to Congress, the Government Accountability Office reported once again that projects totaling millions of dollars were late in delivering their expected outcomes. Specifically, GAO officials cited the Office of Management and Budget’s report that 413 federal projects valued at $25.2 billion in 2008 alone need better planning, management and oversight.

That’s  a familiar story. We’ve heard it often from GAO and many other watchdog groups, including Congress itself.

I am sure casual readers naturally think, as I do, “Wouldn’t it be great if the government could achieve the savings these projects would yield if they were properly managed? The savings could total millions, if not billions, of dollars, couldn’t they?”

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting it is easy to manage federal initiatives. They are by their nature large, highly complex and often risky. Nor would I want to ignore the many successful projects and outcomes that are delivered to citizens every day by an extremely competent federal workforce. But the projects that succeed do so for reasons that revolve around business best practices. One of those successful practices, we’ve observed, is independent program oversight. Let me explain.

Independent program oversight, or IPO, is a management function performed by individuals who, by design, do not have conflicts of interests of a political or contractual nature. They are focused on two things: the execution of a project in accordance with sound program management principles and achievement of its stated objectives and outcomes. They act as a trusted adviser to the program manager and are accountable for that person’s success.

How do they do it? By having hourly and daily access to day-to-day performance information and data that determine the success of a project, not necessarily the success of a contract or contractor. There is a difference.

You see, if a program manager can get accurate, timely and unbiased information and data on the status of the  project, the manager can proactively steer the project to a successful conclusion. Program and project management is more about steering down a path than executing the perfect project plan. Besides, isn’t it an inherently governmental function to make decisions  concerning the progress of a project in response to the day-to-day real world influences?

Contracts are important, and so are contractors. But our ultimate focus has to be on the program itself — its true progress and success. We achieve that with solid program management and independent oversight.

Miller is senior vice president of government affairs at Robbins-Gioia and a 36-year veteran of the federal government. Contact him at Emory.Miller@robbinsgioia.com.

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