Programs need ownership, experts say

Agencies should take responsibility for their programs by understanding what problem the program is trying to solve and what the expectations are for a strong business case, experts said this week.

This ownership of a program or project will lead to the acceptance of the business case by the Office of Management and Budget, officials said, speaking Nov. 4 on a panel at the E-Gov Program Management Summit in Washington, D.C.

"First and foremost, it's very, very important that [program managers] take ownership of their projects and programs," said Debra Stouffer, vice president of strategic consulting services at DigitalNet LLC and former chief technology officer at the Environmental Protection Agency. This way of thinking represents a shift across government, she said, because organizations' chief information officers developed most business cases with minimal involvement of managers.

Program managers should understand expectations in the budget documents and clearly outline the performance gaps within an agency that the program will fill, Stouffer said.

Greg Parham, associate chief information officer at the Agriculture Department, said it's the agency's responsibility to have a qualified staff in charge of program management and the tools available to build strong business cases. At the USDA, officials are working to capture best practices in management and pass them on throughout the organization. This will allow the agency to evaluate themselves before sending the management plans to OMB. This internal scoring leads better programs and more efficient management plans, he said.

"We ought to be in the business of evaluating our own business cases," he said. "No one knows better how poorly we do security than we do. We see it everyday. What are we doing to manage that? We don't need anybody to tell us that."

David Muzio, procurement policy analyst at OMB, said planning is the key to program management. Agencies should be able to communicate in an acquisition strategy to OMB, for example, what they plan to buy, what it costs and when it will be implemented.

More than 750 projects were placed on an at-risk list for having poor business cases and risked losing funding for fiscal 2004. Agencies have since spent time and resources to strengthen program management and translate that in plans to OMB. Muzio said there has been progress, but more work remains.

"The [fiscal 2005] cases are better than the [fiscal 2004] cases, but there are many, many [Exhibit 300s] that indicate you have no idea what you are going to buy," he said.

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