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Research Question

  1. What are key elements for program success in the PPBE process for funding IT and business systems?

Information technology (IT) and business systems for human resource management (HRM) transformation are challenging to fund in the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution (PPBE) process, yet these systems are foundational to all other activities in the Department of the Air Force (DAF) and therefore critical for the future health of the force. Programs face additional challenges when competing with operational initiatives, such as new weapon systems.

This report is one in a series aimed at helping the DAF understand the elements necessary for success in transforming HRM via IT and business systems. The U.S. Air Force has begun a set of initiatives for modernizing its IT systems that support its portfolio of HRM activities called the Talent Management Digital Transformation. This report provides a brief overview of the PPBE process, explores the various challenges of funding technology-related business initiatives in general, and offers some recommendations for better program advocacy.

Key Findings

  • New initiatives are most likely to be successful if offsets are identified to pay most or all of the new program, but long-term success requires these offsets to be realized.
  • The program is more likely to be successful if the program element monitor (PEM) has narratives justifying the program that are tailored to the levels of deliberation (for example, how the program contributes to a mission area and also how it integrates with other efforts to enable higher objectives).
  • The better informed and the better prepared the PEM is to address all questions regarding potential changes to resourcing over the Future Years Defense Program, the more likely the program is to be funded.
  • The more that the PEM works with the user community to gain support and program objective memorandum advocacy, the more likely the program is to succeed.
  • A program is more likely to succeed during execution if it is structured in such a way that incremental successes can be demonstrated.
  • A program is more likely to succeed during execution if it earns the continuing support and engagement of senior leaders.
  • A program is more likely to succeed if all the hidden costs of process realignment or software development to accommodate bespoke processes are identified and budgeted up front rather than emerging as later program cost growth.


  • Ensure that appropriate analysis is done to definitively establish that a technology-enabled HRM program would be a cost-effective piece of the budget, which is to say that the value of its benefits and future cost-avoidance exceeds its costs—including all hidden costs, such as process changes that may be needed, and temporary overlap of old and new systems. Definitively means meeting the same standards of rigorous methodology and evidence that are used in analyses of other programs, such as weapon systems.
  • Develop a communications plan in which this evidence of cost-effectiveness can be presented effectively at all levels of the budget process.
  • Structure the programs to incrementally secure any efficiencies and sequentially retire any legacy systems.
  • Ensure that the personnel representing the initiative are sufficiently knowledgeable to defend the program.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the U.S. Air Force and conducted within the Workforce, Development, and Health Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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