OFPP refreshes program, project management certification requirements

Wednesday - 12/18/2013, 12:57pm EST

Federal program and project managers now must meet all the requirements under the Federal Acquisition Certification no matter how long they have been working and no matter how many programs they've successfully completed.

Under new requirements from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, agency chief acquisition officers (CAOs) no longer have the option to waive all or part of the program and project certification prerequisites.

Instead, the CAO may extend the current certification in writing on a case by case basis for up to one year, and establish the date by which the program or project manager must meet the new certification requirements.

This change was one of eight detailed by OFPP in new guidance to CAOs and senior procurement executives Monday.

"Developing and maintaining professional, effective, and capable P/PMs requires an investment in their training and development, which is the focus of this update of the Federal Acquisition Certification (FAC) for P/PMs. The initial FAC for P/PMs was issued in April 2007 and while many important steps toward strengthening P/PMs have been taken since then, more work remains," wrote OFPP Administrator Joe Jordan in the memo. "The revised program is designed to strengthen civilian agency P/PMs to improve program outcomes, and reflects the need to improve the management of high-risk, high-impact programs."

OFPP said the new requirements become effective March 31.

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OFPP's guidance comes on the heels of the HealthCare.gov debacle that was more of a program management failure than a technology problem. The guidance, however, has been under development well before problems with the Affordable Care Act portal became public.

Still, HealthCare.gov highlighted the continued need for agency program and project managers to be better trained and have more access to continuing education. OFPP is trying to solve both of those long-standing challenges.

The guidance outlines updated requirements for all three levels of program and project management: entry-level, mid-level and senior-level. Each category now has performance outcomes describing knowledge, skills and abilities to be successful.

"The objective of the FAC-P/PM is to align the essential competencies across the federal government's acquisition workforce," the memo stated. "An applicant can satisfy the competency requirements through successful completion of certification or equivalent training, completion of comparable education or certification programs, or demonstration and documentation of knowledge, skills, and abilities through the process of fulfillment. Some agencies may have additional competencies associated with essential mission areas that overlay these common elements."

OFPP said it will revalidate these competencies periodically to ensure they incorporate recent trends and changes.

Each certification requires between 80 hours and 120 hours of training. Additionally, program and project managers must take 80 continuous learning points every two years to maintain their certification level.

"Absent agency action, current P/PMs shall be grandfathered in on the effective date at their current level of certification, as long as the P/PM's continuous learning requirements are current," OFPP stated. "For those grandfathered P/PMs seeking a higher level certification after this date, the new requirements must be met. Additionally, when meeting the 80 hour continuous learning point (CLP) requirement, it is recommended that grandfathered P/PMs take newly required/recommended classes not previously taken to maintain skills currency."

OFPP also reiterated the requirement for all training data to be uploaded to the Federal Acquisition Institute Training Application System (FAITAS) starting Jan. 1. The administration issued a memo in September detailing this new reporting structure.

One big unknown in all of this is how certifications from the Defense Department or the Project Management Institute will be viewed under this new setup. OFPP said agencies or organizations should contact the Federal Acquisition Institute for information certification equivalency. Another major change is the addition of a program and project management specialization that requires additional training. OFPP said information technology is the first area of specialization as outlined by the Office of Management and Budget in the Guidance for Specialized Information Technology Acquisition Cadres and the Office of Personnel Management in the Competency Model for IT Program Management from July 2011.

"The required completion date for a specialization is one year from the date of assignment to a program or project requiring a FAC-P/PM core-plus P/PM, or 18 months from establishment of the specialty, whichever is later," the new memo stated. "Obtaining a FAC-P/PM core-plus specialization is not intended to confer qualification for any specific assignment. Assignment of personnel remains an agency-specific function, and certification as a FAC-P/PM or FAC-P/PM core-plus constitute one aspect for agencies to consider in the assignment of P/PMs."

Under the IT specialization, program or project managers must have at least two years of experience in several areas including identifying IT system requirements, use or knowledge of modular development methods, systems integration into enterprise architecture and IT system testing and evaluation. OFPP says for those project and program managers who want the core-plus certification 20 of the 80 continuous learning points must be in IT topics focused on key issues affecting IT program and enterprise architectural success.

"The FAC-P/PM is only one component of strengthening the P/PM function," Jordan wrote. "Equally important is selecting the right individuals with appropriate experience and leadership skills who will effectively collaborate and communicate with other members of the acquisition team and other stakeholders within the organization."

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