A delegation of the committee met in June 2003 with the heads of the major DOE programs—the Office of Environmental Management (EM), the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and the Office of Science (SC)—to discuss the status of project management and the prospect for continued improvement in their respective programs. A brief discussion of each meeting follows.
The assistant secretary noted that EM is in the business of solving problems and that undertaking the right projects depends on establishing an accurate problem definition before defining a solution. These tasks are different from the tasks required to plan typical capital acquisition projects, but the procedures defined by Order O 413.3 are applicable. She also noted that tailoring project requirements and delegation of approval authority in EM will be dependent on demonstrated competency in planning and executing projects. EM supports the development and coordination of a professional training and career development program through a departmental structure.
The administrator noted that NNSA has done much more to improve project management than the committee gave credit for in its 2002 assessment report. The administrator offered the perspective that NNSA has limited resources to complete its mission and needs to avoid duplicating efforts among DOE headquarters, the field, and contractors. NNSA is challenged to get the right people in the right place to undertake a disciplined process of project management. The development of a lessons-learned database is being discussed as a means to benefit from past problems and success. The recovery of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) from its project management problems was cited as one of the successes, which illustrates that the agency can learn to improve project management. The committee noted that one of the major reasons for NNSA’s difficulties in improving project management is the inadequate size and professionalism of the project management staff. The committee also noted that the administrator needs to provide highly visible attention to project performance in order to accomplish these objectives: to show that excellence in project management is expected and important, to communicate his requirements and expectations to DOE personnel and contractors, to hold managers consistently accountable for project performance, to use the advice of expert staff, and, most importantly, to show that competent project management is a priority by providing the resources needed to manage projects and improve the project management process.