Improving Program Management:

Key Actions Taken, but Further Efforts Needed to Strengthen Standards, Expand Reviews, and Address High-Risk Areas

GAO-20-44: Published: Dec 13, 2019. Publicly Released: Dec 13, 2019.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Yvonne D. Jones
(202) 512-6806
jonesy@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The Program Management Improvement Accountability Act of 2016 requires the Office of Management and Budget to develop government-wide standards for program management.

We found that OMB has begun to do so, but further efforts are needed to fully implement this act. For example, OMB does not have an adequate governance structure for this effort—i.e., a system to develop, oversee, and maintain these standards over time.

We made 8 recommendations to OMB, including that the agency develop a governance structure for program management standards.

People at a conference table reviewing papers with charts and graphs

People at a conference table reviewing papers with charts and graphs

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Yvonne D. Jones
(202) 512-6806
jonesy@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

What GAO Found

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has begun to implement all requirements of the Program Management Improvement Accountabilitiy Act of 2016 (PMIAA), but further efforts are needed to fully implement the law. OMB released its 5-year strategic plan for PMIAA and developed program management standards. However, the standards are not detailed compared with accepted program and project management standards, and OMB's governance structure is insufficient for developing and maintaining these standards over time. In 2019, OMB conducted ten reviews of agency program portfolios—organized groupings of programs whose coordination in implementation enables agencies to achieve their objectives. Each review addressed one or two portfolios per agency. Further, OMB's required portfolio reviews of high-risk areas were limited to only five out of 35 areas on GAO's High-Risk List. OMB could establish measures to track agencies' progress. Although not required by PMIAA, this is a good practice for demonstrating improvement.

As required by PMIAA, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) developed competencies for program and project managers and updated the program management job series. Further, OPM is developing a career path for program and project managers by the end of 2019. OPM also plans to create a unique job identifier code in 2020 so that agencies can more completely identify their program management workforce.

The Program Management Policy Council (PMPC), established by PMIAA and chaired by OMB's Deputy Director for Management, met for the first time in September 2018 and met twice in 2019 to discuss PMIAA implementation with Chief Financial Officers (CFO) Act agencies. All CFO Act agencies designated a Program Management Improvement Officer to participate in the PMPC. However, the PMPC has neither addressed GAO high-risk areas nor advised OMB on how to address high-risk areas, as required by the PMIAA.

Actions to Implement the Program Management Improvement Accountability Act (PMIAA)

Agency/ Council

PMIAA Requirements

Assessment

Office of Management and Budget (OMB)

Issue 5-year strategic plan

Issued; met relevant strategic planning criteria

 

Adopt government-wide standards for program management

Standards lack detail; governance structure needed

 

Conduct portfolio reviews of agency programs

Conducted portfolio reviews with ten of the 24 CFO Act agencies

 

Conduct portfolio reviews of GAO high-risk areas

Conducted meetings for five out of 35 high-risk areas

Office of Personnel Management

Identify skills and competencies

Completed

 

Establish or update job series

Completed

 

Establish career path

To be completed by the end of 2019

Program Management Policy Council

Meet twice each fiscal year

Requirement met for 2019

 

Review programs in GAO high-risk areas and give recommendations to OMB

Not done

CFO Act Agencies

Designate Program Management Improvement Officer

Completed

Source: GAO analysis of agency information. | GAO-20-44.

Why GAO Did This Study

PMIAA requires OMB to adopt program management standards and guidelines government-wide; OPM is to establish new—or revise existing—occupational standards for program and project management. PMIAA includes a provision for GAO, no later than 3 years after the enactment of the act, to issue a report examining the implementation and effectiveness of certain provisions of the act on federal program and project management.

This report (1) describes steps taken by OMB, OPM, and agencies to implement PMIAA; (2) assesses OMB's efforts to address issues on GAO's High-Risk List using PMIAA; and (3) examines the extent to which OMB provided methods for agencies to measure and assess the results of PMIAA.

GAO reviewed documents from and conducted interviews with OMB and OPM. GAO surveyed all 24 CFO Act agencies, and selected five agencies to illustrate implementation efforts. GAO also interviewed subject matter specialists from academia and the private sector regarding their views on how program and project management practices applied to PMIAA.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making eight recommendations that OMB further develop the standards to include more detail, create a governance structure for program management standards, hold meetings on all High-Risk List areas, and establish measures to track agencies' progress in program management. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations and stated that it would consider them when making future updates to its program management policies and guidance.

For more information, contact Yvonne D. Jones at (202) 512-6806 or jonesy@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Deputy Director for Management of OMB, in conjunction with the PMPC, should develop program and project management standards to include (1) a minimum threshold for determining the extent to which agencies have met the standards, (2) how standards apply differently at the program and project levels, (3) how standards are interrelated to work in a synchronized way, and (4) how standards should be applied across the life cycle of a program or project. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Deputy Director for Management

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Deputy Director for Management of OMB, in conjunction with the PMPC, should create a governance structure to further develop and maintain program and project management standards that fully aligns with key practices for governance structures. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Deputy Director for Management

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Deputy Director for Management of OMB should, when expanding PMIAA to additional program types, design pilot efforts to follow leading practices so that OMB can optimize its efforts to improve and broaden portfolio reviews across a full range of program types. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Deputy Director for Management

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Deputy Director for Management of OMB should communicate program areas and timeframes, and expectations pertinent to annual program portfolio reviews, to be reviewed in future program portfolio reviews. (Recommendation 4)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Deputy Director for Management

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Deputy Director for Management of OMB should clarify for agencies how the different definitions of a "program" relate to each other in OMB guidance. (Recommendation 5)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Deputy Director for Management

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Deputy Director for Management of OMB should convene trilateral meetings between OMB, relevant agencies, and us for addressing all high-risk areas during each two-year high-risk cycle (Recommendation 6).

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Deputy Director for Management

  7. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Deputy Director for Management of OMB, in conjunction with PMPC, should ensure PMPC meeting agendas include time for discussing high-risk areas during meetings and provide time for the PMPC to make recommendations to OMB about addressing high-risk areas. (Recommendation 7)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Deputy Director for Management

  8. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Deputy Director for Management of OMB, in conjunction with PMPC, should establish measures to assess outcomes of PMIAA, such as establishing a baseline of information on programs or collecting trend data. (Recommendation 8)

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget: Deputy Director for Management

 

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