Critical Read

Federal program management needs help

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What: The National Academy of Public Administration issued a white paper July 15 on lagging adoption of program management practices for large projects in the federal government.

Why: The adoption of program management at the federal level has been uneven, said the report, "Improving Program Management in the Federal Government." With the exception of the Department of Defense and some civilian agencies, such as NASA and the Department of Energy, program management capabilities are generally weak, with some pockets of strength.

The NAPA panel identified five key challenges to building effective program management capabilities across the federal government, as well as a list of support initiatives needed for effective program management efforts to take root in the space. Based on its review, the panel said a more systematic approach, backed by the authority of law, would enable a more rapid and consistent development of program management capabilities.

Among the  reasons program and project management haven't taken root across the federal government:

  1. Laws and policies have been developed over time to address specific problems and do not holistically address the challenges of program management.
  2. Program management is not consistently recognized as a management discipline that is essential to government performance, success, and results.
  3. Agency executives and stakeholders do not clearly understand their roles and responsibilities.
  4. There is no consistency across the government in the training and development of program managers.
  5. Program managers lack a professional community within the federal government that can provide support and a voice on issues affecting the development of program management.

Verbatim: "Increasingly, the federal government is called upon not only to manage the routine operations of ongoing programs, but also to undertake large, complex initiatives to provide new programs and services and to adapt and improve ongoing programs in a rapidly changing environment. This has proven to be a challenge. The recent high-profile failure of the HealthCare.gov launch is just one example from a long list of troubled government efforts to manage change efficiently and effectively."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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