Training rules still offer agencies flexibility

The CIA had put its IT project management training and certification out for bid but in the end decided to handle the program in-house.

'What I'm doing is defining the amount of training we will require to maintain internal certification and management,' said the senior project manager, who could be interviewed on the condition his name not be used.

The Office of Personnel Management's IT project management classification allows agencies to apply the criteria in a flexible manner as long as project managers meet the benchmark, said OPM's Tara Ricci, who helped develop the guidance.

Several agencies such as NASA conduct their own training programs while the Army and others choose to outsource the work.

CIA officials decided to construct their own program after looking at the ones available from the private sector, the senior project manager said.

The CIA's program and certification was developed from a combination of results of a survey of project managers to determine their needs and the agency's occupational standards, he said.

The program will have four levels of certification, requiring someone to spend 240 hours in the classroom and pass a series of 11 tests to meet all four levels, he said.

'We have a work force that is familiar with project management and have used project management techniques for decades,' he said. 'We estimate we will have a large volume of people who will be taking advantage of this program.'

One reason the CIA opted for in-house training, the senior project manager explained, can be traced to the fact that the agency, unlike other agencies, combines project management with systems engineering.

The industry's certifications do not encompass those two fields.

Another reason for not 'buying something off the shelf is we have a long history of using terminology specific to our agency projects,' he said. 'We want that to continue to be reflected in the program.'

Ricci said the guidance was written to provide flexibility to agencies while establishing what makes a qualified project manager'ensuring that the government spend money on IT projects wisely.

The CIA official said he expects the new in-house certification will give the CIA more certified IT project managers than before because so many will use the new training program.

'We think we have a shortage today, and this will help us address that shortage,' he said. But even with in-house training and certification, the CIA and other agencies face another race besides the one to meet the Office of Management and Budget's requirement to have certified project managers to obtain funding for IT projects.

Not only do they have to fill the positions before the next budget cycle to prevent funding from being cut off, they also must 'beat the clock' in terms of demographics, the CIA official said.

Like many other public- and private-sector organizations, the best-qualified IT project managers also tend to be the most experienced, and many are nearing retirement age, he said.

'The demographics are we expect a sharp increase in hiring in five years,' the CIA official said. 'If the industry is producing more project managers, that will likely suit our needs, and we can do a combination of outside hiring and inside training.'

Christine Miller Ford is a freelance writer

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