Williams, Doan get high marks at the start

Jim Williams, director of the Homeland Security Department’s U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, will leave DHS this month to lead the General Services Administration’s new Federal Acquisition Service. Williams will be the first commissioner of FAS, which combines the Federal Supply Service and the Federal Technology Service (FTS). In an interview June 8, Williams characterized his move as a new challenge.

Experts on GSA agree, saying that he will be joining an agency wrought with strife and deep-seated structural problems.

“There are fundamentals that have to be fixed,” said Bob Woods, president of Topside Consulting Group and former commissioner of FTS. “It’s not going to be as easy as a to-do list.”

Testing Doan’s first appointment
Wasting no time after her May 31 swearing-in as GSA administrator, Lurita Doan made Williams her first major appointment at the agency. She said she plans to announce more appointments soon but offered no details.

Doan made four phone calls and had two face-to-face meetings to convince Williams to join GSA’s newest organization, Williams said. Senate and House appropriators authorized the creation of FAS in April.

“What really swayed me was meeting Lurita Doan,” Williams said. “She has a contagious enthusiasm. I liked her immediately.”

Williams served at GSA once before, as director of the agency’s Local Telecommunications Procurement Division, which was responsible for all of GSA’s local telecom purchases.

Marty Wagner, who had temporarily led FAS, is expected to return to GSA’s Office of Governmentwide Policy, according to GSA.

Doan said she is confident she can bring top talent back to GSA as she tries to remake it into a more responsive purchasing agency. Her appointment as administrator will last no longer than the departure of the Bush administration in January 2009, and many observers have said Doan must work quickly to improve GSA and solve its financial troubles.

What Williams can expect
Williams said missteps by GSA drove away customers in recent years, and he recognizes that employee morale is low and wants to change that.

Consultants familiar with GSA say the agency suffers from structural problems. For example, former officials chose to do away with GSA’s ability to hold other agencies’ funds from one fiscal year to the next, a practice called multiyear funding or fund parking.

When the rules changed, GSA was forced to return agency funds to the treasury rather than the agencies, he said, driving some customers away. “GSA essentially threw their money down a rat hole,” Woods said.

Woods said he would like to see Williams and Doan work with Congress to get multiyear funding restored, which would give GSA an advantage over its procurement competitors. Officials must ease up on oversight because it impedes GSA’s ability to be an efficient buyer on agencies’ behalf, he added. GSA must also address employees’ concerns about their jobs, he said.

Williams’ move gets mixed reviews
At Accenture, the prime contractor for the US-VISIT program, officials sent a memo to employees expressing support for Williams’ choice to leave DHS for GSA.

“While we would have preferred Jim to stay with the program, this opportunity is really too big for him to turn down,” the memo states.

Industry officials had positive comments about Williams’ leadership at DHS. “It’s sad to see him head to GSA because of his depth of knowledge about border problems” and biometrics, said Lynn Ann Casey, chief executive officer of Arc Aspicio, a management consulting firm specializing in homeland security and border management issues. When Casey worked with Accenture, she led the company’s efforts to secure the US-VISIT contract.

She said Williams met the deadlines and progress milestones set by Congress. He ran clean and flawless procurements, without the usual protests from contractors with losing bids, she added.

Schedule: Done in 30 days

On June 6, her fourth day as administrator of the General Services Administration, Lurita Doan told a standing-room-only audience that, under her leadership, businesses would be able to earn a spot on a basic GSA schedule within 30 days.

“It is going to take a little work and a little time, but we are going to meet our goal,” she said at the Coalition for Government Procurement’s Spring Conference in McLean, Va.

Doan said at the event that she has heard complaints that it takes too long to get a schedule contract and too long to make necessary modifications.

“But I am committing to you here today that we are going to fix these pesky issues,” she said.

— Matthew Weigelt

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