OMB, OPM turn to former CIOs for help

Friday - 1/28/2011, 6:03pm EST

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management are leaning on the experience of former federal chief information officers and industry experts to develop the new project management career series.

OMB and OPM held a meeting Jan. 21 with about 30 industry executives who are members of TechAmerica and IAC. The agencies asked for advice and insight into the most important qualities a government program manager should have. Industry officials, who attended the meeting and asked to speak on anonymity because the meeting was not a public event, say federal CIO Vivek Kundra and Chuck Grimes, OPM's deputy associate director for employee services, led the discussion

"They were interested in hearing about the notion of new GS-series and wondering what it should look like, such as the difference between project and program management," said one official who attended the meeting. "It really focused on practical matters. Should it be someone with IT knowledge? Should the person be a mission expert?"

Creating a career series for IT project managers is one point of Kundra's 25-point IT reform plan.

In December, Kundra said he wants to give agencies direct hirer authority for project managers and launch a best practices portal. The departments of Agriculture and Treasury will pilot the program management career path. OMB also wants to launch a technology fellows program to partner with universities as well as create a rotation for managers and other IT professionals in the government to work with private sector companies how are not government contractors.

This official and others at the meeting say the attendees agreed that the two most important qualities a federal project manager needs is technical skills and experience.

The group included former CIOs Ira Hobbs, Dan Matthews, Alan Balutis and Ed Meagher as well as former OMB official Jeff Koch, Chris Yukins, a George Washington University professor of law, Phil Bond and Trey Hodgkins from TechAmerica, and others from the George Mason University and the National Defense University.

Attendees say Kundra wanted the group to focus solely on what the career series would look like and not get into the broader discussion of why IT projects fall into trouble.

The official said Kundra said the 25-point IT reform plan is trying to address those concerns and he just wanted the conversation to focus on creating the career series.

One attendee said that deflated the room to some degree because no matter how experienced a project manager is, they still need the support from upper management.

"You keep on going back to what OMB has done over the years and they try to change the world through the CIO community, but because CIOs have different places in each agency, it's like trying to push a noodle of change up through them," the first official said. "At the same time, OMB needs to push change down through the President's Management Council."

One attendee offered the idea of calling project managers, senior program executives.

Another attendee discussed the Defense Department's Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) standard for project management would be a good model.

One attendee said there were more questions than answers throughout the session, including whether the government could pay extra for project managers with experience? And whether the career series will be a part of the 2210 series or an extension of the 2200 series-both of which are where project and program management fall now.

Officials from George Mason University expressed interest in putting together a program to support project management training. Kundra said, according to one attendee, that OMB already is discussing the idea of a Master's degree program on government project management.

Finally, the idea of creating the job series that puts as much focus on complexity as dollar amount is a key consideration.

"Starting a new system from scratch versus upgrading a current system even if the cost is less is a lot different of a challenge," one official said. "The other question that came up is whether there should be free transfer among departments? And whether the project managers need to know IT or mission?"

The official said overall it was a good discussion.

OPM and OMB did not say when a draft career series would be ready nor did they say whether what the next steps were.

"I got the feeling they will take information and think about it themselves," said another attendee.

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