Case Study

Program Management and Acquisition Governance

Project Summary

In 2022, The Department of State’s (DoS) Office of the Procurement Executive (OPE) identified the opportunity to expand the strategic oversight of acquisition programs within the Department.

OPE identified several challenges that needed to be overcome to optimize Department spending, including a lack of proactive acquisition and program planning, unpredictable timelines, and a lack of risk management in acquisition programs. Despite approximately $10 billion in annual contract spending, DoS had no codified framework for such oversight, and there existed no review or governance body to provide much needed strategic direction from both an acquisition and program management perspective. OPE came to OCT for help in building out this framework for oversight of the Department’s most critical, high-dollar investments. This resulted in an Acquisition Review Board (ARB) that vets those critical procurements over $500M.

OCT’s Approach

Prior to establishing the ARB’s processes and procedures, OCT had to develop an understanding of successful acquisition and program management at DoS. What standards of evaluation would acquisition programs going before the ARB be held to? What aspects of acquisition and program management needed to be emphasized to achieve the Department’s strategic goals? Using OCT’s federal acquisition expertise, the OCT team conducted a thorough review of federal acquisition guidelines, including the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), to establish baseline success criteria for all dimensions of acquisition and program management. Recognizing that there was additionally a wealth of institutional knowledge within the Department, OCT emphasized stakeholder engagement in the process of developing the oversight body’s evaluation framework. OCT held a number of focus groups with Department executives and acquisition professionals to understand both areas of improvement and previous examples of success in procurement and program planning.

After developing an evaluation framework that was both specific enough to provide consistent guidance and flexible enough to allow for the evaluation of multiple contract types, OCT faced the challenge of developing a set of processes and procedures that could eventually be institutionalized within OPE and the Department. How could OPE balance the need for simplicity that would encourage participation in these new processes and the need for robust and consistent review procedures?

OCT conducted an analysis of similar acquisition review boards at other federal agencies and developed an eight-week review cycle that consists of two phases – a preliminary phase that would allow time for training DoS employees on acquisition and program management best practices and a review phase in which a program’s acquisition and program management strategies would be evaluated by a group of subject matter experts. OCT delivered robust Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that detail every step required for successful administration of the eight-week cycle.

Finally, OCT had to help OPE understand how to institutionalize the review body within the Department. Using principles of change management, OCT conducted a stakeholder analysis to determine areas of resistance and how OPE could overcome them. How does OPE incentivize voluntary participation in a mandatory process? While acquisition programs over a certain dollar threshold are required to come before the review body, OPE executives wanted OCT to emphasize the Department-wide benefits of acquisition oversight. While the new requirements associated with the ARB can be seen by DoS employees as additional work, the long-term benefits to proactive acquisition and program management planning will be felt across the Department and at all levels. To this end, OCT held regular briefings with DoS employees to familiarize them with the review board framework, processes, and procedures, as well as with the benefits for both employees and the Department at large.

Problem #1:
Planning Process

Planning for major acquisition activities is often reactive in nature and serves to “check a box” rather than think through critical planning elements

Problem #2:
Acquisition Timeline

Significant periods of rework lead to unpredictable acquisition timelines (e.g., the program presents an immature plan for signature and rework is required)

Problem #3:
Risk Management

Acquisition Strategies and Plans received oftentimes fail to adequately consider and prepare for relevant risks and challenges


The ARB is still in its early stages, but since its inception, OPE has held a number of successful reviews of acquisition programs with lifecycle costs of over $500M. OCT has developed a calendar of future reviews and will help with the facilitation and administration of at least one review per quarter and up to 6-10 reviews per year once the review board reaches full maturity. OCT’s efforts have helped to realize the following benefits in the board’s reviews and across the Department:

The review board has also helped to align Department executives on strategic goals regarding acquisition and program management. With OCT’s help, OPE has instituted a consistent and repeatable oversight process that will lead to reduced costs, better performance, and more predictable timelines across the Department’s procurement enterprise.