OMB wavers on project managers

'If you don't have a project manager with certification, you can't just stop the project.'<>
'Labor CIO Patrick Pizzella

Henrik G. de Gyor

The Office of Management and Budget is backing away from a plan that would have required agencies to have full-time managers for every major IT project.

At a recent CIO Council meeting, OMB officials told agency IT managers that their fiscal 2006 business case submissions for IT projects should specify full-time, certified project managers unless the agency CIO waives the requirement, said several federal IT executives who attended the meeting.

The waiver option, which dilutes a policy that OMB officials have discussed in recent years, is an attempt to satisfy small agencies, which have found the requirement a strain on their personnel resources.

But some federal IT officials are unhappy with the administration's backpedaling, saying too many projects will risk failure.

Last August, OMB told agencies they had until this September to appoint a qualified project manager with a commercial certification and significant experience for every major IT project that required a business case.

Mark Forman, the former OMB administrator for e-government and IT, said before leaving government that agencies needed to train or hire 1,400 qualified project managers, and called for agencies to have full-time managers.

But Karen Evans, who replaced Forman as IT administrator, said OMB guidance never made it a requirement.

'In guidance provided to the agencies for fiscal 2005, OMB requested that all agencies ensure that their project managers for their major investments were certified in accordance with the CIO Council guidelines,' Evans said. 'The Federal CIO Workforce and Human Capital for IT Committee has developed the guidelines, and they are currently under review by the entire CIO Council.'

But CIOs seem to have taken the call'by Forman, General Services Administration officials and others'for full-time project managers as a requirement. And many CIOs said they have been training and certifying project managers to meet OMB's request.

Labor Department CIO Patrick Pizzella said his agency will have 50 to 60 managers certified by August.

And Veterans Affairs Department deputy CIO Ed Meagher has said every VA project manager must be certified by the Project Management Institute Inc. of Newtown Square, Pa.

Dan Matthews, vice chairman of the CIO Council and the Transportation Department CIO, said the expectation to have a full-time project manager for every initiative was 'unrealistic.'

'We are working with OMB to reach an accord to which projects should have dedicated project managers,' he said. 'What is important is to establish management functions that achieve project outcomes.'

Several CIOs voiced displeasure with OMB's decision, no matter how unrealistic it appears to be.
'One big reason projects fail is they don't have proper management,' said one agency IT official, who requested anonymity. 'OMB needs to be more stringent because there needs to be standards.'

The official said agencies need OMB's authority to get program managers and other executives to hire or train project managers.

'If we can have OMB back us up, then it gets done,' the official said. 'It is a major expense, but it is worth it because of the discipline it imposes on you. I hate to see people back away from it.'

Pizzella said the goal of having a full-time project manager for every initiative is admirable, but that agencies must prioritize project needs.

'If you don't have a project manager with certification, you can't just stop the project,' he said. 'You have to manage your resources to get to the objective you are seeking.'

Consistency needed

Fred Thompson, a former Treasury official and now an e-government practice director for Unisys Corp., said projects must have consistent leadership.

The CIO Council is developing more clear definitions for what is expected of project managers. Ira Hobbs, co-chairman of the CIO Council's IT Workforce Committee and incoming Treasury Department CIO, said the guideline is under review by the full CIO Council.

'Nothing has been finalized and everything still is under discussion,' said Hobbs, who will move to Treasury from his current position as Agriculture deputy CIO on June 23.

'Our committee worked up a concept, and now we are in the Q&A stage of the proposal,' he said.

Hobbs said CIOs would assign each project a corresponding level'1, 2 and 3, with 1 having the lowest risk and 3 having the highest risk.

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