Program management reform may soon be coming to federal agencies, but likely not before 2016.

The Program Management Improvement Accountability Act unanimously passed the Senate on Nov. 19, opening the door for the House, which already has similar legislation in H.R. 2144, to take up the legislation.

But the House is currently in recess until Nov. 30, followed by three more weeks in session in which issues like averting the threat of another possible government shutdown may loom.

As the holidays approach, Robert Burton, a partner at Venable LLP and a former deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said the House will probably take up the bill next year. Given the bill's bipartisan success in the Senate and H.R. 2144's prior introduction in the House, he said he has high hopes that will soon become law.

"Because there is a [House] companion bill that is virtually identical and because it really started with the House bill, I think that chances of passage are quite good on the House side," he said.

The bill would seek to improve how agencies manage their projects establishing standards for program management and designating program managers as a formal position within the federal government.

The Senate bill; sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst, R.-Iowa, and Heidi Heitkamp, D.-N.D.; was introduced on June 10. It also would also establish a Program Management Policy Council, as well as assign improvement officers to oversee projects.

"This bipartisan legislation puts our federal government back on track by streamlining efforts and outlining strategies to correct widespread deficiencies, lax oversight and unnecessary cost overruns incurred by preventable delays in meeting stated program goals and deadlines," Ernst said in a Nov. 19 press release.

The legislation is part of a push to make agency undertakings more efficient by injecting more standardization and accountability into the process.

"The focus is just an emphasis on accountability and raising the importance of program management at the highest levels of the federal government," Burton said.

"It's very frustrating when you have program managers basically primarily falling into what's called 'other' [in job series classifications]. That just shows you that they are all over the place. Some agencies don't know who their program managers are. They need to be identified, they needed to be treated as a profession, they need to have a career path and they need to have a dedicated job series."

The bill would seemingly take care of those needs, authorizing the Office of Management and Budget to establish federal management standards and would install Program Management Improvement Officers at each agency to help develop strategy and oversee program management operations.

It would also set up a Program Management Policy Council to oversee and improve policy.

Finally, the bill directs the Government Accountability Office to identify a 'High Risk' list of programs that the policy council can review to provide recommendations.

Burton said the support the bill received in the Senate isn't surprising, given that it could provide agencies a way to deliver more projects on time and on budget.

"It's just a good government piece of legislation," he said. "It has a lot of basic ideas in it that probably are long overdue."

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