Project Management: The Missing Link of Acquisition Reform

An article published this week on Federal Computer Week highlights the woeful state of the project management capability that currently exists in the federal government, and how attention needs to be paid to this critical government management function.

In the article, Healthcare.gov is once again the punching bag for the model program of what a federal boondoggle is all about. However, lessons learned from this program, along with the Government Accountability Office making Information Technology (IT) acquisition the newest member of their High Risk list , has seemingly given traction to the fact that acquisition reform is a holistic model, and must also include those activities that happen after a contract is awarded.

Former Department of Homeland Security CIO Richard Spires made an excellent point about the focus area:

This is not really a technology problem as much as a skill and cultural one,” he said. “Culture is the biggest issue.

This is an interesting article worth a look, as creating the culture of performance and constant improvement can have a major impact in improving federal programs, especially when it relates to IT.

It is the implementation of the U.S. Digital Services Playbook, along with theTechFAR Handbook, that holds the most promise for turning around federal IT programs through proper use of performance based contracting, and best practices of agile.

The inaugural podcast by Anne Rung, Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, highlights successes in IT acquisitions using these prominent procurement tools. The first podcast featured Mark Naggar, project manager of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Buyers Club. He detailed his use of the TechFAR Handbook and the Digital Services Playbook, specifically noting that he tapped play No. 4, “build the service using agile and iterative practices,” to help his team quickly contract with numerous firms for development of IT system prototypes.

The HHS initiative is a great foundation for the art of the possible in government, were engaged and committed leadership demands improved performance from their teams, provide the resources and means to achieve it, and have accountability at the forefront of results.

Combined with effective and agile contracting technique, effective project management can be the critical success factor for programs to succeed. It should be an concerted, integrated effort to address the failures of government management, and not an either/or proposition.

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