The Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act – AND YOU!

DECEMBER 14, 2017 – The Day the Project and Program Management World Changes

The clock is ticking, and ticking fast for the newly enacted Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act.  In the five short pages of the Act, it calls for big changes for more than a dozen agencies and departments in the Federal Government.  Who is impacted?

The Departments of Agriculture,





Health and Human Services,

Homeland Security,

Housing and Urban Development,







Veterans Affairs,

The Environmental Protection Agency, and

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration


That laundry list of agencies are all expected to have clear, well-defined project and program management processes in place by December 2017.  And by March of 2018, they’re expected to implement those processes and have the appropriate personnel trained on them.

It doesn’t sound like a short fuse, but it is.  Particularly when you consider that it has to be done under the counsel and guidance of a Program Management Improvement Officer (PMIO), who will serve on the Program Management Policy Council.  And the Council is made up of representatives from each agency (the PMIOs), and representatives from the Office of Management and Budget.

The Short Track

The short track to getting it accomplished is to simply say “we’ll follow existing guidance!”  That could come in the form of the PMBOK Guide or the Project Management ISO (ISO 21500).  By simply adopting them in toto, the agencies and departments could easily brush off the mandate and declare victory.  One of the big challenges there, however, is the Project Management Institute’s delayed release schedule for the 6th edition of the Guide.  Since the 6th edition won’t be published until Q3, 2017 (read September 30, 2017), most agencies and departments will already be under the proverbial gun to have the processes in place.  Since PMI ardently argues against the use of old editions of the PMBOK Guide®, the Institute may have argued themselves out of a role in the very law that they helped enact.

The simpler (and much shorter) version of the process to be embraced will likely be ISO 21500, since it doesn’t have many of the intellectual property issues associated with the PMBOK Guide®.  PMI® contends that the use of a single graphic or table from the Guide is a litigable offense, and thus may preclude the use of some of the more common aspects of the Guide from being used extensively in government documentation.

The advantage to using materials generated in support of the PMBOK Guide®, however is the ability to directly link career paths, training, and support to an existing network of training and consulting professionals.  Coupled with the PMP® certification, that infrastructure may prove too alluring to resist, and thus may delay implementation of the Act’s intent until only weeks prior to the drop-dead date for implementation.

Impact on YOU?

If you’re a program manager in the Federal environment, this is a wonderful thing.  You have the ability to create processes and support structures that may outlive you.  You have the opportunity to create processes that you like!  You have the ability to build a better career path than you’ve seen before, and create the serious potential for regular project and program success.  You might even get a shot at becoming the Program Management Improvement Officer (PMIO)!

If you’re a program or project manager outside the Federal environment, you have both opportunity and risk.  The opportunities come in the form of agencies willing and anxious to work with their private sector counterparts to build the new infrastructure.  (If you’re not on the GSA Schedule…the price list for all things Federal…send me an e-mail and I’ll share how you’re NOT out of the picture).  The risks come from agencies that decide to adopt completely different PM processes and generate all training, planning and infrastructure in-house.

If you’re a senior executive in the Federal environment, my friend Bruce Falk actually identified your biggest risk—picking the wrong people.  There are going to be right and wrong people for this job.  Rigid martinets who believe they alone have the answers are going to be the wrong people.  Flexible, creative and empathetic individuals who understand process are the dream candidates for the PMIO and his/her support team.

What to do now?

Become the official “early adopter” of the PMIAA.  Learn the five pages of the Act and have a clear personal vision as to what the process should look like.  Have a sense of the best sources and resources for the tools, trainers, risk managers to support the mandates of the law.  And have a sense of urgency when talking about the PMIAA.  December 14, 2017 may sound distant.  It’s tomorrow.

And yes, Carl Pritchard does have a dog in this fight.  As a trainer who has authored books of tools and books on Risk Management, he’s looking forward to the evolution of the new law.  For more?  Read Carl’s article in the February 2017 issue of Project Manager Today (UK)
E-mail Carl at carl(at)

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4 Responses to The Program Management Improvement and Accountability Act – AND YOU!

  1. Michael DeKort says:

    Where does it impose actual best practices? A real WBS , schedule and EVM for example? Down to the work package level? if it doesn’t – it’s useless. And simply deferring to PMI is a mistake. They punted on best practices and made them optional years ago so they could cater to Commercial IT $.

    • carlpr says:

      Wow! What great points! The act simply says they have to put practice in place that are in keeping with commercial and Federal best practice, which could be a hole they could drive a truck through. OR, implemented by a zealot, they could be a vise that traps Federal PMs. It will be compelling to see how it plays out. And it will also be compelling to watch the PMIOs who turn the act into practice. Great points, sir.

  2. Bill Ruggles says:

    Carl, you misstated the impact of the PMIAA (S.1550) on the Dept of Defense. It says:

    “The bill exempts the Department of Defense (DOD) from such provisions to the extent that they are substantially similar to: (1) federal provisions governing the defense acquisition workforce; or, (2) policy, guidance, or instruction of DOD related to program management.”

    You included “Defense” just like the other Federal agencies.

    • carlpr says:

      Good point, Bill, but I would contend that we really don’t know the extent of the exemption until such time that the OMB and the policy council both determine what’s “Substantially similar” to the intent of the law. They’ll be making the call on that, and that is the proverbial crap shoot. But your point is well taken.

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