Acquisition guru plays alter ego

Fresh off the successful launch of the Federal Aviation Administration's acquisition system Dennis DeGaetano has taken up a new role: alter ego and deputy for George Donohue associate administrator for research and acquisitions (ARA).

As deputy associate administrator DeGaetano moves from overseeing the agency's acquisition policies to working closely with Donohue in managing all aspects of how the FAA develops and acquires air traffic control and other mission-critical technology.

The position itself is relatively new "so we can define the job as we go along " DeGaetano said. In the meantime DeGaetano sees himself a 24-year veteran at the agency taking Donohue's vision and turning it into bona fide FAA policy.

"George is clearly an articulate spokesman of what he is trying to do with the ARA organization and acquisition R&D and all the related activities at the FAA " DeGaetano said. "He really wanted someone who had the internal knowledge of the organization" as well as someone who could help turn vision into reality.

Donohue joined the FAA two years ago when administrator David Hinson wanted someone from the private sector to rethink how the agency did business.

DeGaetano brings not only years of experience to the job but also a reputation for speaking his mind which will be an asset in the new job.

"I think [Donohue] was looking for someone who would challenge him and he saw in me a person who was willing to do that " DeGaetano said. "What I told George from the first day we spoke is that what he will get from me is my honest opinion of what he's trying to accomplish."

DeGaetano began his career at the FAA in 1972 as a quality reliability officer responsible for monitoring the quality of equipment coming off the production lines of the agency's contractors. Since that job as a GS-5 DeGaetano has kept involved with FAA acquisition of products and services while working his way up through the ranks. He joined the FAA's acquisitions organization in 1990 and was appointed director of acquisitions in 1992.

All that experience paid off this year when the Transportation appropriations bill freed the FAA from most federal acquisition regulations and allowed it to build its own acquisition system.

DeGaetano directed that effort starting with a clean slate in late 1995 and finishing with a full body of policy and regulations by the April 1 1996 deadline. Even people who are withholding judgment on the acquisition system itself were impressed with the FAA's ability to meet that demanding schedule.

"When I was originally asked how long this should take I said I would like a year. I was told `We'll give you 90 days.' And I said `How about six months?' And I ended up with four months when all was said and done " DeGaetano said.

Since taking his new position DeGaetano has worked both at FAA headquarters and out in the field overseeing the rollout of that system. FAA strategy calls for a gradual phase in of the new regulations by region and program office with ample time devoted to training. Straight Shooter"I enjoy that part of it - whether it's speaking in front of a small group of people at a workshop talking to the whole organization or talking one on one in my office here " DeGaetano said. The interaction with the people "is the most important aspect of the job: taking that message and getting it out to the people in a way they understand it " he said.

A reputation as a straight shooter helps him in this task as much as with Donohue. "I am the type of person who says what I think. People understand I don't have hidden agendas or things of that nature " DeGaetano said.

DeGaetano anticipates a lot of work over the next year trying to get the new system in place. That means fielding the training tools that the FAA sees as a necessary ingredient dealing with Congress which is nervous about the FAA's new independence and working with vendors to ensure they understand how the process works.

Through it all the task requires a careful and pragmatic balancing of what DeGaetano believes will work and what Donohue wants to see happen. "I will state my opinion as forcefully as I think I need to state it " DeGaetano said. "But once [Donohue] makes a decision I will do everything I can to implement it.... I would never do anything to undermine what he's trying to accomplish " he said.

That is not a compromise but a necessary approach as Donohue's hired alter ego. Still when all is said and done DeGaetano believes the working relationship will be a valuable one.

"I know the FAA. I've been with the FAA since 1972 I know what makes it work and what doesn't work " he said. `'I think I can play a key role in helping George implement the things he wants to implement."

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