The views and opinions expressed or implied in WBY are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.

Aligning DAF with Program Management Industry Standard

  • Published
  • By Capt Reed Schafer, USAF

The Industry Standard Disconnect

The United States (U.S.) is in a great power competition on who will dictate world order this century. According to the 2022 National Defense Strategy (NDS), “the most comprehensive and serious challenge to U.S. national security is the PRC [People’s Republic of China]’s coercive and increasingly aggressive endeavor to refashion the Indo-Pacific region and the international system to suit its interests and authoritarian preferences.”[1] While the Department of the Air Force (DAF) is one of the main tools to deter the PRC, its ability to conduct traditional warfare operations appears to have atrophied during the last two decades of unconventional operations in the Middle East. Coupled with a size reduction, the DAF currently does not have the capability and lethality to engage in a prolonged conflict with the PRC.[2] Bridging the DAF’s capability gap requires the effective development and fielding of critical weapon systems. 

Great attention must therefore be given to the DAF’s acquisition community as it plays a central role in procuring these defense capabilities, which account for over 37% of the DAF’s $194 billion budget in the Fiscal Year 2023.[3] Yet despite spending over $72 billion, “our current system is too slow and too focused on acquiring systems not designed to address the most critical challenges we now face.”[4] The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has repeatedly reported the poor performance of defense acquisitions and the need for adopting better practices.[5] With the chance of conflict increasing, the DAF must increase its pace and focus on low-hanging fruit changes that yield high rewards. One such change would be better integration of industry standards and best practices in the training and development of DAF Program Managers (PMs) who are charged to deliver capabilities within cost, schedule, and performance baselines.[6] PMs lead programs that integrate and unify all key functionals specialist areas (e.g., contracting, engineering, finance, logistics, etc.) into one team to effectively develop and field weapon systems. 

Given the extreme complexity of navigating government programs to completion, only sharper and more experienced PMs have a better chance of executing DAF programs. While Defense Acquisition University (DAU) provides the bulk of training and development in Program Management to the DAF, this has proven insufficient as DAF’s acquisition projects still have significant cost overruns and schedule delays. With the continued need for better training and development, one solution is to integrate the international gold standard Project Management Professional® (PMP®) certification into DAF’s military and civilian PM career progression. (Note: The DAF uses project management and program management interchangeably).

The PMP® certification comes from the Project Management Institute® (PMI®), which is an independent, non-profit organization that is internationally recognized through its American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited standardization, and the International Standards Organization (ISO) 9001 and ISO/ANSI 17024 standards connected to Project & Program Management.[7] The PMP® embodies decades of globally stipulatory best practices and industry standards espoused by The Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge® (PMBoK®) which since 1999, ANSI has approved as the American national standard for project management.[8] It encompasses a logical and formal approach to how to effectively lead programs. With over one million active certifications across 200 countries, the PMP® certification is the global industry standard for project management.

While many successful companies will either require PMs to get the PMP® or strongly align with the PMBoK®, the DAF and DAU do not. Specifically, DAF military PMs cannot formally get reimbursement for the costly certification other than from a pilot program, nor are they allowed or encouraged to put their certifications into their performance reports and military records. Conversely, many defense contractor PMs have the PMP® which in many cases allows the contractor to charge the government a premium. Therefore, it is only logical that the DAF integrates this certification into its PM training and development, which would provide DAF PMs and their contractor counterparts with a common methodology to better execute their programs.

Department of Air Force Acquisitions Background

As a critical component in national defense, military and civilian PMs have the difficult task to develop and field capabilities in a complex, bureaucratic environment that tends to be risk-averse and slow, which often inhibits their ability to quickly provide critical capabilities to the warfighter. In addition to having to contend with the lengthy Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), statutory laws, external forces (Congress, Department of Defense (DoD), DAF), and internal forces (directorates and program offices), PMs must work within a matrixed organization where key functional area specialists report to their functional lead and not the PM. Furthermore, most PMs have little to no signatory authority to truly advance their programs unless they are a Program Executive Officer (PEO) or, in some cases, a Senior Material Leader (SML). When testifying before Congress, one Army acquisition chief aptly depicted the challenges as being “on the [program] bus, each stakeholder represented as a passenger, had his own steering wheel and brake, but no gas pedal [besides the PM].”[9] In this environment, PMs have few tools to adequately lead their integrated product team to program execution.

While many of these factors are outside the control of the DAF, it should focus on increasing PM effectiveness through training and experiential development. Although reforming the FAR and other key acquisition regulations would be highly beneficial, this would require significant unified effort from DAF senior leaders and their success would depend on a variety of factors outside the control of the DAF and even the DoD. Conversely, with training and development directly under the DAF’s purview, this can be improved with relatively small funding and internal policy changes. 

Despite efforts by DAU, Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), and System Program Offices (SPO) to improve PM’s effectiveness, the current program cost, schedule, and performance levels are failing in their effort to sufficiently field defense capabilities needed in a potential conflict with the PRC. In the 2020 defense acquisition audit where the GAO leveraged PMBoK®’s criteria in collaboration with PMI®, it found that “[Major Defense Acquisition Programs] have missed opportunities to improve cost and schedule outcomes by not adopting knowledge-based approaches.”[10] GAO’s comptroller highlighted how these programs “embark on ambitious plans for delivering capabilities without having established fundamental knowledge.”[11] In 2022, GAO reported that 63 of defense acquisitions’ costliest Major Defense Acquisitions Programs, of which the DAF accounted for 27, “continued to experience schedule delays.”[12] Conversely, Major General Cameron Holt, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for acquisitions contracting, has stated that the PRC’s acquisition community is fielding their weapon systems “five to six times” faster than U.S. acquisitions, “spend[ing] about one dollar to our 20 dollars to get to the same capability”, and “we are going to lose if we can’t figure out how to drop the cost and increase the speed in our defense supply chains.”[13] Thus, there is an urgent need to improve DAF PM training and development. 

DAF PM Training and Development

While some measures taken to improve PM training and development, they have not fully integrated the PMP®. Adopting the PM industry standard embodied in the PMBoK® would empower PMs by providing them with a tested framework of over sixty years of best practices that can be tailored to PMs’ program. Yet, most Office of the Undersecretary of Defense Acquisition and Sustainment (OUSD(A&S)) competencies still do not match the PM industry standard with only 34% aligning with the PMBoK®.[14] While critics of the PMI® would state that DAU’s recently reformed certification process, known as “Back to Basics,” satisfies these requirements, they have refused to provide evidence to substantiate their claim that it is 100% aligned with ANSI standards despite repeated requests by DAF’s lead acquisition organization.[15] In fact, other than DAU being a part of PMI®’s Executive Council, no functional relationship exists between the PMI® and DAU. Furthermore, the DAF’s newest Talent Management Framework guidance, the new “bible” for PM career development, fails to mention anything about the PMP® and its benefits to PM effectiveness.[16] While AFIT has leveraged lots from the PMBoK®’s for its technical school and intermediate course, OUSD(A&S) still needs to align its PM competencies. Only then will DAF PMs be consistently exposed to industry standards via training and development throughout their career. 

While it is commonly said that the vast majority of PM development is “On the Job Training (OJT),” this situation leaves critical training to the SPO which creates significant disparities in learning as successful progression mainly depends on the maturity of the organization. While large SPOs may provide ample opportunity for growing their PM base, smaller SPOs and sub-organizations are at a disadvantage. Although some PMs may eventually learn on their own, this method wastes DAF resources and is time intensive. Furthermore, this haphazard method leaves too much to chance as it depends heavily upon the uncertain quality of the training the PM got during their beginning assignments. 

Only recently have leaders from three of the most important DAF acquisition organizations, Space Systems Command (SSC), Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC), and Air Force Nuclear Warfare Center (AFNWC), begun advocating for the importance of the PMP®. Even then, they still seek only a transactional relationship with the PMI® which still prevents many more opportunities to synergize national defense with PMI®’s industry standard. If they want to accelerate change, then they need to establish a transformational partnership with the PMI® where their expertise and guidance are integrated into PMs’ planning and execution. This relationship could result in many benefits to the U.S. including the PMI® providing surveys and benchmarking of PM organizational efficiency and helping revise OUSD(A&S) PM core competencies to align with PM industry standards. As an ANSI Accredited Standards Developer, the DAF can leverage the PMI® in the close coordination of a new organizational PM training curriculum that can tackle the disparities of OJT. The PMI® can also offer a streamlined process on the certification applications tailored to the DAF with cost savings and ease of bulk purchases/renewal fees that align with DAF’s Fiscal Year constraints. This could also flow into gaining membership in the PMI® Executive Council for access to thought leadership and best practices and access to the Council Practice Improvement Assessment to benchmark the DAF against high-performing PM organizations. Lastly, the PMI® can help in pooling together the PM military and civilian workforce on an easy-to-use platform (currently main one used is a military-only Facebook group) through the hundreds of local PMI® regional chapters dedicated to improving program management in their communities. 

As a collaboration between these organizations and the PMI® has mainly been conducted sporadically via a middle person (Captain Schafer), the PMI® has difficulty justifying allocating consistent resources to nurturing this vital connection (only a few PMI® business development members are allocated partial work on this effort).[17] This partnership is low effort and high reward. While integrating the PMP® in the DAF is not a panacea for better fielding weapon systems, linking DAF PM training and development to industry standards is a feasible and measurable way forward.

Internally, the DAF must also incentive its PMs to integrate best practices from the industry into program execution. First, the DAF should allow their military PMs to state on their performance reports and their official military records that they got their PMP®. It already allows other industry standard certifications, such as Certified Public Accountants or Green Belt certification, via Special Experience Indicators (SEIs). While DAF’s updated Air Force Officer Classification Directory created a broad PM SEI in April 2023, it unsurprisingly lumped the PMP® with easier-to-obtain certifications, such as the Certified Scrum Master and Scaled Agile Framework certification, which incorrectly makes them appear to be of equal status.[18] Furthermore, this process does not include any means to track who specifically has their PMP®, therefore denying the DAF the ability to survey their PMs or measure PMP® PMs’ program performance. Finally, if the DAF wants to truly push for the adoption of PMP®, it should reimburse them for the costs of the exam other than from specific pilot programs.

Two Successful Paths

If DAF PMs are to develop and field capabilities for a potential conflict with the PRC, then the DAF must aggressively implement the PMP®. While both the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) successfully integrated PM industry standards into their mission, their different approaches present the DAF with two possible paths to follow. The USACE fully integrated the PMP® into their PM career progression, by requiring their PMs to obtain the PMP® certification to lead their top-tier megaprojects (multi-million/billion-dollar programs that are high value to their mission) and providing full reimbursement of the PMP® exam and necessary training costs.[19] NASA opted to establish a strategic partnership with the PMI® to tailor their PM training and development to their specific needs. Therefore, NASA’s PM training curriculum has integrated the industry standards from PMI® into how they effectively develop and field their programs.[20] In both cases, these measures ensure their PMs gain the best of industry standards.

Although the DAF could adopt either approach, the increased sense of urgency in the current strategic environment makes the USACE approach more enticing as it would quickly address the DAF’s immediate needs. The DAF could immediately integrate the PMP® certification into career progression, while it takes more time to better align its PM training and development of defense acquisitions to PMBoK®’s standards. It can also direct its training and development organizations, such as the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Air Force Acquisitions and the Air Force Personnel Center, to not only recognize but incentives aligning to the PMBoK® standard and encourage PMs to get the PMP®. In addition to reimbursing the studying materials, exam costs, and renewal fees of the PMP®, it should also allow its military members to put their PMP® on their military records and performance reports. Meanwhile, the DAF could also begin the process of establishing a sustainable strategic partnership with the PMI® like NASA. While this relationship could start as a memorandum of understanding, it could eventually develop into a full-fledged strategic partnership where the PMI® plays a key role in improving DAF PMs. Then, the DAF can work with OUSD(A&S) on revising its PM core competencies to the PMBoK®.

Key Leadership Needed

With the NSS, NDS, and senior leader directives pushing for the reformation of acquisitions, the DAF can overcome the risk-averse culture within acquisitions through better adoption of the industry standard in PM development. Past directives towards this end have been broad, without prioritization, and lack a sense of urgency which ensured these efforts struggled to receive the necessary attention of commanders’ limited resources. Therefore, the DAF must provide specific guidance that highlights this urgent priority. By charging DAF organizations to integrate the PMP® into their PM training and development, key leaders, such as the Under Secretary of OUSD(A&S), the Secretary of Air Force, the service chiefs of the United States Air Force (USAF) and United States Space Force (USSF), USAF and USSF acquisition chiefs, and AFLCMC, SSC, and AFNWC commanders need to lead the charge, thereby giving the DAF a better chance at improving its lethality and survivability.

Captain Reed Schafer, USAF, MBA, PMP 
Capt Reed Schafer is currently assigned to Space Systems Command as a Program Manager for Cheyenne Mountain Modernization at Peterson SFB, CO. His assignments include Program Manager at the F-16 System Program Office at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH; Test Director, Assistant Flight Commander, and Resource Advisor at 17 Test and Evaluation Squadron, Schriever SFB, CO; Deputy Acquisition Manager for strategic research at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Office of Net Assessment at the Pentagon, D.C. Before the military, he worked as an Assistant Sporting Good Buyer for a Fortune 100 corporation. He holds an undergraduate in Business Administration with a focus on Entrepreneurship from the University of Oregon, holds an MBA from Southeast Missouri State University, a certified Project Management Professional, and a graduate of the Army’s elite Sabalauski Air Assault School. Capt Schafer has experience in corporate buying, program management, agile software development, traditional and rapid acquisitions, operational test and evaluation, strategic research, and sustainment.


[1.] Department of Defense, National Defense Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: Pentagon, 2022), 4,

[2.] Chris Dougherty, “Why America Needs a New Way of War”, Center for a New American Security, 2019, 32-36; The Heritage Foundation’s 2023 U.S. military strength report lists the Air Force and Space Force as “very weak” and “weak” respectively to engage in traditional warfare which amplifies the need to modernize the Force. Heritage Foundation, “U.S. Air Force & U.S. Space Force”, An Assessment of U.S. Military Power, October 2022

[3.] Department of Air Force, “Air Force President’s Budget FY23”, Financial Management & Comptroller, October 2022,

[4.] Department of Defense, National Defense Strategy, 19.

[5.] Government Accountability Office, “Weapon Systems Annual Assessment: Challenges to Fielding Capabilities Faster Persist”, June 2022, 2-3,

[6.] Department of Air Force, “Force Modernization Talent Management Framework”, Air Force Personnel Center & SAF/AQ, SAF/SQ, November 2022, 7,

[8.] Jay Holtzman, “Getting Up to Standard.” PM Network, 1999.  

[9.] David Vergun, “Shyu urges Congress to give more authority to program managers”, Department of Army, April 2015,

[10.] Government Accountability Office, “Defense Acquisition Annual Assessment”, June 2020, 49,

[11.] Gene Dodaro, “2020 Defense Acquisition Annual Assessment, Memorandum for Record”, Government Accountability Office, June 2020,

[12.] “Weapon Systems Annual Assessment: Challenges to Fielding Capabilities Faster Persist”, Government Accountability Office, (2022): 2,

[13.] Thomas Newdick, “Government Contracting Pricing Summit: China Acquiring New Weapons Five Times Faster Than U.S. Warns Top Official”, The Drive, July 2022,

[14.] “DoD Program Management Career Field Functional Competencies”, Office of the Secretary of Defense, February 2022, 1-7,; Jonathan Karnes, “Aligning DoD Program Management Competencies with the Project Management Institute Standards”, Naval Postgraduate School, December 2020, 92,

[15.] Steve Wiggins, email message to author, May 31, 2023.

[16.] Department of Air Force, “Force Modernization Talent Management Framework”, Air Force Personnel Center & SAF/AQ, SAF/SQ, November 2022, 7,

[17.] Erica Grenfell, email message to author, August 19, 2021.

[18.] Department of Air Force, “Air Force Officer Classification Directory”, Air Force Personnel Center, April 2023,

[19.] “Training and Career Development”, United States Army Corps of Engineers, 2023,

[20.] “Development Program" The Academy of Program, Project, and Engineering Leadership, 2023,


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