A simple twist of fate
- By Diane Frank
- Jan 21, 2001
SBA Plain Language
John Spotila's new job in the private sector might be seen as yet another unexpected turn along a far-ranging career path, but he doesn't see it that way.
Last month Spotila left his position as the head of the Clinton administration's information technology policy office to become chief operating officer for GTSI Corp., which integrates and resells technology products. But Spotila does not see this as wasting his public-policy expertise but rather as building on it.
Policy issues "do still interest me, but I was also interested in getting into the operations side the application of policy," he said.
As administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the Office of Management and Budget, he had the opportunity to define many of the policies that shape how federal agencies buy and use technology.
Now Spotila will help the product solutions teams at GTSI better understand the policies that underlie the technology needs of their government customers. He works for a new employer, but his job is still tied to the success of federal agencies buying IT.
"This adds a new dimension," he said. "I wanted to do something that built on what I did at the White House but also learn new skills."
Finding new things to learn has always taken Spotila to unexpected places. After starting out as a freshman at Georgetown University with "no idea of what I wanted to do," he ended up with a Russian language degree, and happened to be in the Soviet Union during the August 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Interested in the intricacies of world politics, he pursued a law degree at Yale. He then spent several years at the Justice Department, followed by work at private law firms. But it was his friendship with Bill Clinton, dating back to his first day at Georgetown, that brought him fully into the federal government and then to GTSI.
In 1992 when Clinton won the presidential election, Spotila called his old friend to see if there was any way he could help. That landed him a job as general counsel at the Small Business Administration, a position that made sense for a lawyer who had by then spent years as the head of small law firms.
His experience with the troubles that would-be small-business owners encountered in a financial climate that favored large, well-established businesses led to a very successful SBA initiative to completely rework the agency's regulations and paperwork.
Part of the administration's plain- language efforts to make government paperwork understandable to the average citizen, the SBA initiative ended up winning a Hammer award from the National Partnership for Reinventing Government.
This experience is exactly why GTSI went after Spotila, said Dendy Young, chairman and chief executive officer of the company.
"Several years ago, we couldn't afford to bring on board a heavyweight like that, and now we can't afford not to," Young said. "John's assignment, in effect, is to make the trains run on time. It will provide a platform on which we can grow."
As head of OIRA, Spotila had another opportunity to rework a lot of cumbersome federal regulations. He also had his first real chance to become familiar with IT policies. Among his concerns was the impact of the Clinger-Cohen Act, which simultaneously freed agencies from many procurement regulations and compelled them to adopt sound IT management practices.
After spending time helping SBA employees evaluate how their regulations applied to the real world, he wanted to help agencies think about how they could apply the law to their daily work.
For example, Spotila wanted to see agencies fully integrate Clinger-Cohen into the budget process, using it to determine which initiatives would be the most beneficial.
And helping GTSI employees understand the context of the systems is just an extension of that policy work, Spotila said. "We need to work with agencies so they are in a better position to benefit from what the private sector can provide," he said.