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.

Access to this Wall Street Journal on-line article requires a subscription at: 


Defense acquisition not just realm of program managers

Large defense programs claim any number of stakeholders, including the services’ program managers and their counterparts in the defense industry.

But other key players — such as congressional staff and lobbyists — also have some skin in the game.

Understanding their role in the defense acquisition process was the focus of a special forum hosted by the Defense Acquisition University Alumni Association last week.

Bill Bahnmaier, the president of the association, told In Depth with Francis Rose the way the roles interrelate is often obscured because there’s rarely a “direct link” between them.

The program manager for a particular acquisition program usually deals with the vendor through its respective program manager — not the company’s lobbyists.

Keep reading this article at:

Meet the new GSA administrator

In the aftermath of the announcement that General Services Administration chief Martha Johnson had resigned Monday, GSA confirmed she would be replaced by Daniel M. Tangherlini as acting administrator, currently the assistant secretary of the Treasury for management and the department’s chief financial officer.

Tangherlini has been with the Obama administration since July 2009, when he was confirmed by the Senate. According to his official bio, in that role, he is the primary policy adviser on the development and execution of budget and performance plans for the department.

Prior to his service at Treasury, Tangherlini was city administrator and deputy mayor of the District of Columbia during the administration of Mayor Adrian Fenty. During Tangherlini’s tenure, Mike DeBonis of the Washington City Paper wrote, “his team of young bright-eyed analysts, armed with spreadsheets, budget books, and CapStats, pushed agencies to fulfill Fenty’s do-it-now style of governance.”

“Optimism without data is really just an emotion,” DeBonis quoted Tangherlini as saying.

Tangherlini also has previous federal experience. He has worked in the policy office of the Transportation Department and spent six years in the Office of Management and Budget during the Clinton administration, serving in several different roles. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public policy from the University of Chicago and a master’s in business administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Here’s video of Tangherlini participating in a panel discussion on the subject of creating a performance culture at federal agencies during Government Executive‘s Excellence in Government conference last year (registration required).

Last year, the IBM Center for the Business of Government interviewed Tagherlini on his approach to leadership and management.

The news of Tangherlini’s appointment was first reported by The Washington Post.

— by Tom Shoop, Government Executive, Apr. 2, 2012 at

Panetta names new DISA acquisition, program execs

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta assigned both Jennifer Carter and Alan Lewis to new posts at the Defense Information Systems Agency, according to a Tuesday Pentagon announcement.

Carter is DISA’s new component acquisition executive and previously served as enterprise resource planning program manager for the Department of the Navy.

Lewis is DISA’s new program executive officer for enterprise services after previously serving as vice director for computing services.

Both Carter and Lewis will be based at DISA’s Ft. Meade, Md. headquarters.

Both reassignments are within the Senior Executive Service.

— by Ross Wilkers, ExecutiveGov, Mar. 20, 2012 at

Commission: Government needs new approach to program management

The government needs to develop proficient executives to head major IT projects, because a broad view of management is needed to when buying a complex IT system, experts said in a report released today.

“Every major acquisition should start with the full-time assignment of a single, knowledgeable and authoritative program manager who sees the project through to completion,” TechAmerica’s Commission on Government Technology Opportunities in the 21st Century writes in a report issued Oct. 25.

In the report the commission suggested ways the Obama administration can fix IT acquisition and management problems. The commission talked with 105 senior IT and acquisition executives and managers in government and the federal and commercial industries.

The commission said the pool of qualified managers is too small, and many managers today don’t have a broad view of the program and what else it affects. Managers often know either a lot about the technology or the mission the new technology supports.

“In actual practice, program managers come from one domain or the other and typically have very limited knowledge of the other side of the effort,” the commission wrote.

To build an ideal manager to lead a major IT project to success, federal officials should make program management a formal career track and establish a training academy, the report states.

Also, each major acquisition needs to have an outsider looking in, and an official should be conducting independent reviews to lessen the procurement’s risk. Otherwise, projects hit delays in their schedule and costs swell beyond expectations. The commission recommends making the reviewer a third party to the project, not affiliated with the agency or the prime contractor, the report said.

Better communication between stakeholders also is key. Among the IT leaders with experience in government, more than three-fourths of them cited better engagement, collaboration and communication between government and industry as an important part of an IT project’s success, more than any other topic.

The commission said the opposite is happening in today’s federal marketplace. Contractors and federal acquisition and management officials are being pushed farther away from each other for fear of conflicts of interest.

“The communication could give rise to perceived conflicts of interest or claims of unfair competitive advantages that may subject the participants to a bid protest,” the report states.

The commission said managing IT acquisitions and programs is one of the most serious management challenges facing federal officials, adding that, during the past 10 years, the government has invested more than $600 billion in IT systems. However, some major projects have had such problems with cost, schedule or performance that they have been canceled without being deployed.

– by Matthew Weigelt – Oct. 25, 2010 – Federal Computer Week

Bite-size procurements can minimize big-time problems

Remember your high-school algebra teacher’s advice? Break down the problem into smaller parts. And when you tried it, the algebra changed from a complex web of Xs and Ys into several simpler problems.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra and his boss, Chief Performance Officer Jeffery Zients, are giving the same kind of advice to agency leaders. They want agencies to stop building complex, multiyear, multibillion-dollar overhauls of major IT systems and infrastructure. Instead, they say, agencies should start taking much smaller bites.

“For too long, we have witnessed runaway projects that waste billions of dollars and are years behind schedule,” Kundra told the CIO Council in September. “By the time these projects launch — if they launch at all — they are obsolete.” He recounted the government’s history of failed IT projects, which stretches back to 1968.

When a problem has been around for decades, it means a change in thinking will be tough. Kundra maintains that agencies are stuck in think-big mode. Officials often set course on a far-reaching project rather than accomplishing essential needs. In too many instances, agencies are left with substantial cost overruns, lengthy delays in planned deployments and poor functionality in the fast-moving IT world, he said.

He’s arguing for an upheaval of the classic procurement thinking, especially in the technology world.

For example, the way the Defense Department buys its land vehicles and fighter airplanes does not fit with IT projects. In instances such as the Hummer or F-35, DOD officials set out all the specific requirements from the start. The department wouldn’t want to add requirements after production began because it would cost a lot of money to interrupt the production line.

But that approach doesn’t work as well for DOD’s IT acquisition projects. About one-third of the department’s IT projects get canceled before completion, according to reports. “You buy the same old-fashioned way, you get the same old-fashioned results,” said Jeremy Grant, chief development officer at ASI Government, formerly Acquisition Solutions.

These days, the government buys so much IT and services that agencies must buy differently. IT changes so fast that it requires a fast procurement process to keep in step. By scaling back programs, agencies will realize savings and perhaps more successes, Kundra said.

Apple’s iPhone is a good example. Apple outlined an application programming interface for the phone, even without fully testing all aspects. The developers changed various aspects in subsequent versions of the API. With each version, software makers built their ideas on the platform.

Talking About a Revolution

To be sure, smaller procurements might not save the procurement world from buying problems. There’s an underlying procurement problem even when officials buy with small bites in mind, experts say. Put another way, they’ve also got to be able to do the simple math.

The acquisition workforce is overwhelmed, said Larry Allen, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. “The approach sounds really good on acquisition letterhead, but in reality, it has a lot of issues,” he added.

Whether big or small, the procurement process takes time. Mega contracts can force contracting officers, program managers and others to take months or even a year to develop requirements so the project goes smoothly. But smaller procurements also take time, Allen said.

Contracting officers will have more contracts to award. Program managers will have more to manage. Then the contracting officer’s technical representative, who oversees the progress of an awarded contract, will have more to watch. Many small procurements will add to the pressure on COTRs, for whom the COTR role is often only part of their duties.

Agencies also face more transitions between contractors as the project advances. There’s the ever-present risk of bid protests with each contract award. If a new contractor comes aboard, the changeover will delay the project because the new awardee can’t begin work the next day. As the old and new contractors switch places, there’s the potential for failures in continuity. Agencies will need to get companies to talk to each other in a transition, or problems are inevitable.

“It becomes like a game of telephone,” Allen said. “Some things will get lost in translation.”

Allen warned that a company might not put everything it has into a project if there is a potential for it to lose its place in future parts of the project. A contractor might keep back some of its ideas because it might later have to hand over trade secrets or strategies to a competitor.

Those are the kinds of algebra problems that defy easy solutions and short cuts. Perhaps that’s why Kundra is also trying to raise the stakes for agency leaders by putting his message into a much larger context of change.

“We are in the midst of the Information Revolution,” Kundra told the CIO Council, so the government must change as well, he said, “creating a culture of accountability with a focus on execution.”

– by Matthew Weigelt – Oct. 21, 2010 – Federal Computer Week.

How to improve procurement: Stop talking about requirements

Requirements are the Achilles’ heel of procurement.

Ask users, managers and regulators for a program’s requirements and you will get a vague description of products and services that are currently available. They inevitably “require” what they already know could work today. And that’s a problem because by the time the request for proposals is released, the proposed solution might be overtaken by better and more affordable options.

What a program requires is a competitive procurement that complies with regulations and delivers the desired results. The challenge is determining what a program really needs. How can we define those needs in such a way that bidders can propose solutions that take advantage of what’s available today but also retain the ability to meet changing and future needs?

One answer is to ask the “What are your requirements?” question in a few different ways. Tom Love, CEO of Shoulders Corp., offers hope in this regard. He suggests we bench the term “requirements” and use other terms that will unearth real needs. In other words, pose the question to elicit more thoughtful and thorough responses.

Love has put together a list of 18 terms or concepts that can help deepen a discussion and bring real needs to the surface. For example, one idea is develop “story cards” that show how the solution might be used. Love also encourages people to incorporate refreshment plans for updating technology and decommissioning plans for bringing systems to a close. The full list of terms appears below.

This approach can help us break our reliance on known and preferred solutions and focus instead on the actual needs of users — to transform from solution understanders to user-oriented requirements understanders, as Jim Beveridge put it in his sales and marketing seminars in the 1970s.

It might also help us finally resolve what renowned software engineer Barry Boehm calls the IKIWISI problem — “I’ll Know It When I See It,” a common problem that makes it difficult to define needs.

As the needs are identified, we might prioritize them by creating three categories: needs, wants and desires.

For example, we need a payroll system. We want to include the ability to issue W-2 statements within the required period. We desire to deliver it all on the first official release day to impress our employees with our support services. Discussing perceived needs might unearth some interesting possible solutions and bring to light the readiness to accept new or revised solutions.

A lot of this comes down to semantics, but in this case, semantics matter. The ultimate solution might very well come out better if we pose the question in a different way.

What do you think?

Tom Love’s suggested terms for identifying program needs:

  • User input
  • Project charter
  • Unique security profile
  • Functional specs
  • Business cases
  • Use cases
  • Performance metrics
  • Operational scenarios
  • Transitional scenarios
  • Nonfunctional needs
  • Interface needs
  • Screen designs
  • Application mock-ups
  • Story cards
  • Validation tests
  • Acceptance tests
  • Refreshment plan
  • Decommission plan


– by Ray Kane, a consultant who has worked in the federal market for more than 40 years, on Oct. 15, 2010