More lift, less turbulence: 5 management secrets from the AF Secretary

Let’s face it: “compromise” must stop being a four-letter word in Washington.
Deborah Lee James is the Secretary of the Air Force, Washington, D.C. She is the author of this article.
Deborah Lee James is the Secretary of the Air Force, Washington, D.C. She is the author of this article.

Piloting a large organization such as the Air Force through turbulent geopolitical air is challenging, and more so without a solid budget. We’ve teetered on the seesaw of instability for too long. We need Washington to come together and compromise to fund the Air Force appropriately and help return us to fiscal stability.

I know from my 34 years in defense and industry that reaching a compromise can be tricky. In my capacity as Secretary of the Air Force, I’ve put my negotiation skills to use with Congress, international leaders, our sister services and industry partners. But my real passion is advocating for our nearly 664,000 active, Guard, Reserve and civilian airmen.

When it comes to collaborative negotiation, I’ve always followed five simple rules: Do your homework; tell the story; aim for a win-win; persevere; and keep your cool. These rules have served me well in both the public and private sector.

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GAO lays out ways agencies can combat program fraud

Federal agencies could reduce the risk of fraud through new detection processes laid out by the Government Accountability Office in a July 28, 2015 report.

GAO-GovernmentAccountabilityOffice-Seal“Effective fraud risk management helps to ensure that federal programs’ services fulfill their intended purpose, funds are spent effectively, and assets are safeguarded,” GAO says in the report.

The GAO outlined steps for federal managers to ensure a reduction in fraud among agency programs.

Agencies must first take preventative measures by creating an organizational culture and structure which is conducive to fraud risk management, the report says. Demonstrating a senior-level commitment to integrity and combating fraud will help that kind of thinking permeate an agency and get other to commit as well, GAO says.

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Senators push to reform federal program management

A bipartisan pair of Senators have introduced legislation that aims to improve how the federal government manages projects and to cut wasteful spending on poorly managed programs.

Seal_of_the_United_States_SenateSenators Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., introduced the Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act, which would create a formal job series and career path for program managers in the federal government in order to improve how agencies manage projects.

The bill also requires that the Office of Management and Budget develop and adopt governmentwide standards, policies and guidelines for program and project management at federal agencies, as well as chair an interagency council on program management.

OMB would also conduct annual reviews of agency projects and programs to see if they were being managed correctly, including addressing issues identified as high risk by the Government Accountability Office.

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New OFPP rule: Program managers must meet acquisition certification requirements

The New Year brings new requirements for federal program and project managers.

Under new guidance issued by the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) program managers now must meet all Federal Acquisition Certification (FAC) requirements.

What’s more, agency chief acquisition officers (CAOs) no longer have the option to waive the program and project certification prerequisites.  The only latitude granted by OFPP is that CAOs may extend a current certification on a case-by-case basis for up to one year.  If an extension is granted, a date by which the program or project manager must meet the new certification requirements is to be set.

The new requirements become effective on March 31, 2014 and are outlined in the following chart:

(click on chart to enlarge)
(click on chart to enlarge)

To maintain a FAC-P/PM, certified professionals are required to earn 80 CLPs of skills currency every two years. The two-year anniversary is set by the date the individual is certified.

“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,” stated OFPP director Joe Jordan in the Dec. 16, 2013 guidance entitled Revisions to the Federal Acquisition Certification for Program and Project Managers (FAC-P/PM).  “Having skilled, competent, and professional program and project managers (P/PMs) is essential to the success of critical agency missions. P/PMs ensure that requirements are appropriately written, performance standards are established, and contractors deliver what they promise. P/PMs develop requirements, lead integrated project teams (IPTs), and oversee budgeting and governance processes, all of which are critical to ensuring that agency mission needs are filled and expected outcomes achieved.”

While a specific curriculum is not articulated by OFPP, the new guidance recommends “an instructional approach best suited to deliver the learning outcomes that align to the competencies.”   FAC-P/PM core-plus professionals now are required to earn 80 CLPs of skills currency every two years. Maintenance of CLPs is shared between the core-plus area and the core FAC-P/PM continuous learning requirement. At least 20 of the 80 CLPs required must be dedicated to continuous learning in topics associated with the core-plus area. If an individual fails to obtain the 80 CLP requirement, the core FAC-P/PM and core-plus specialization will simultaneously lapse. To regain certification status after a certification has lapsed, the 80 CLP requirement must be completed within the two year period, including the requirement for 20 of the 80 CLPs dedicated to continuous learning in topics associated with the core-plus area.

For a copy of the OFPP’s Dec. 16, 2013 guidance, click here.   


Former DoD undersecretary says acquisition reform is one of four budget-cutting strategies

The Wall Street Journal on Feb. 5, 2013 published an op-ed piece outlining a four-point strategy to cut the Defense Department’s budget.  Acquisition reform was prominenetly featured in the op-ed which was authored by Michele Flournoy, a Defense Department undersecretary from 2009 until last year.   Flournoy had been mentioned as a candidate for DoD Secretary until the Administration nominated Chuck Hagel.

Flournoy cites unnecessary overhead in DoD, offering the Defense Secretary’s office itself as an example.  From the mid-1990’s until now, staff within that unit has grown from 600 to nearly 1,000.

She also recommends that military health care spending be cut.  She advocates asking retirees who are now privately employed to obtain insurance through their employers.

Flournoy also believes that reactivation of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission could continued to drive down excess infrastructure costs.

Last but not least, Flournoy highlights the potential benefits of acquisition reform in several areas. “DoD is still operating with procurement timelines unresponsive to need, perverse incentives for program managers, inadequate numbers of trained acquisition professionals, and insufficient dialog with industry,” she writes.

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