Commission: Government needs new approach to program management

The government needs to develop proficient executives to head major IT projects, because a broad view of management is needed to when buying a complex IT system, experts said in a report released today.

“Every major acquisition should start with the full-time assignment of a single, knowledgeable and authoritative program manager who sees the project through to completion,” TechAmerica’s Commission on Government Technology Opportunities in the 21st Century writes in a report issued Oct. 25.

In the report the commission suggested ways the Obama administration can fix IT acquisition and management problems. The commission talked with 105 senior IT and acquisition executives and managers in government and the federal and commercial industries.

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Documentation, communication key to management success

The commission said the pool of qualified managers is too small, and many managers today don’t have a broad view of the program and what else it affects. Managers often know either a lot about the technology or the mission the new technology supports.

“In actual practice, program managers come from one domain or the other and typically have very limited knowledge of the other side of the effort,” the commission wrote.

To build an ideal manager to lead a major IT project to success, federal officials should make program management a formal career track and establish a training academy, the report states.

Also, each major acquisition needs to have an outsider looking in, and an official should be conducting independent reviews to lessen the procurement’s risk. Otherwise, projects hit delays in their schedule and costs swell beyond expectations. The commission recommends making the reviewer a third party to the project, not affiliated with the agency or the prime contractor, the report said.

Better communication between stakeholders also is key. Among the IT leaders with experience in government, more than three-fourths of them cited better engagement, collaboration and communication between government and industry as an important part of an IT project's success, more than any other topic.

The commission said the opposite is happening in today’s federal marketplace. Contractors and federal acquisition and management officials are being pushed farther away from each other for fear of conflicts of interest.

“The communication could give rise to perceived conflicts of interest or claims of unfair competitive advantages that may subject the participants to a bid protest,” the report states.

The commission said managing IT acquisitions and programs is one of the most serious management challenges facing federal officials, adding that, during the past 10 years, the government has invested more than $600 billion in IT systems. However, some major projects have had such problems with cost, schedule or performance that they have been canceled without being deployed.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.


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