Just do it: They did it—First in LRL to earn program analyst certification

Published Dec. 15, 2010

Brenda Ellis and Terri Harris this September became the first program analysts in the Louisville District to be certified under the new Program Analyst Career Development Plan, and both earned the highest certification – level III.

"Brenda and Terri are exceptional analysts as well as role models for the program analyst field," said Angie Puckett, chief of the business management branch in the district’s construction division. "Their wealth of knowledge and experience was a natural fit for this certification."

Implementation of the current version of the career plan for program analysts began January 2010, and includes a transition period of certification ending in July 2011, according to Joanne Milo, deputy chief for the district’s planning, programs and project management division and one of the reviewers of the certification packets before they are sent to the division.

"During the transition, program and budget analysts may apply for certification by submitting their application packages detailing how their experience and education have equipped them with the necessary competencies," Milo explained.

She said after she reviews the applications they must be approved and signed by David Dale, deputy district engineer and chief of planning, programs and project management. Then they are forwarded to the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division for adjudication and, if warranted, certification at one of the three levels.

"I felt that it was important for them to become certified during the transition period as the differences in their paths to their current positions would show others that this registration is possible for all," Puckett said. "Their registration applications would serve well as examples for others to follow."

Ellis came to the Louisville District in 1991 as a GS-5 accounting technician from the 266th Theater Finance Command in Heidelberg, Germany. Along the way to her new position she worked as a budget analyst in resource management and then construction. Puckett retires at the end of the year and Ellis has been selected to succeed her as the chief of construction’s business management branch, a position with a target grade of GS-13.

Ellis admits she had to be nudged by her supervisor to compile and submit her certification application, but she said once she finally got started it only took her four days. And the results both surprised and pleased her.

"I’ve learned so much about myself and I appreciate myself more," Ellis said. "It taught me something about my own creativity, the way I designed my packet in chapters. I will never have to go back and research my career history again."

Much of the documentation Ellis needed, like certificates and diplomas, was stored in a box in her garage, an indication of the many moves she’d made when her husband was on active duty. She said when she got done compiling all her professional records "it gave me renewed confidence when I realized I had done certain things."

Harris came to the Louisville District in 1992 from the U.S. Census Bureau. Her first position at the district was as a GS-3 automation clerk in military project management. Then she worked on the civil side as a project support assistant. In 2002 she joined the construction division as a GS-7 budget technician and two years later was promoted to budget analyst in project management. That led to another promotion to program analyst. Harris currently serves the construction division as a GS-12 senior program analyst.

Harris said she sees certification as a "chance to set yourself apart." She added: "I’m always looking for ways of improving and it looks good on your resume’. It’s a personal accomplishment."

Harris, who oversees the work of three budget analysts, said she did a lot of the compiling at home; doing a little each day she put the packet together in two weeks.

"Don’t procrastinate, just do it," Harris said. "There’s never time. Give yourself a time, set a goal and just do it."

Milo explained that the steering committee of the program and project management community of practice developed this career development plan to standardize levels of competence across the Corps. The application goes through Dale because he’s the district’s senior member of the PPM community of practice, Milo said. Certification is approved by Mike White, the division’s director of programs, and it’s his signature on the certificate that is presented to successful applicants.

Job series eligible for certification are 343 Program Analyst and 560 Budget Analyst, said Barbara Petersen, chief of programs management branch at the Vicksburg District and leader of the team who drafted the career development plan. Petersen said she began researching and drafting the plan in 2006 and the USACE commander signed the first version in June 2009.