GSA watchers praise Williams nomination

Government officials and acquisition experts welcomed the news that President Bush has chosen Jim Williams to head the General Services Administration, an agency trying to stabilize itself after several years of troubles.

Last week Bush nominated Williams, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, to become the agency’s administrator, ending speculation that Bush might let the position remain unfilled until the next administration takes office. The job has been open for nearly two months, after Lurita Doan abruptly resigned in late April at the White House’s urging. While Deputy Administrator David Bibb had stepped in as acting administrator, he recently announced that he will retire in September.

“I am pleased the president has nominated a new administrator to head the General Services Administration, an agency that badly needs effective and honest leadership at the top to effectively manage the agency’s responsibility to provide goods and services across the federal government,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. His committee will conduct Williams’ confirmation hearing.

At GSA, Williams has been a stable presence, especially during the two years when Doan headed the agency, according to agency observers. He’s well-respected by colleagues and outside constituents, industry experts say.

But his nomination and Bibb’s planned exit put two of GSA’s top three positions in flux, said Bob Woods, president of Topside Consulting Group and former GSA commissioner. David Winstead, commissioner of the agency’s Public Buildings Service, is the only leader not changing positions in the next few months, Woods said. 

Although Williams would help GSA overall, FAS will lose his direct leadership, which has been a linchpin for the organization, said Scott Orbach, president of EZGSA, a company that helps businesses work with GSA. FAS could become more decentralized without its strong leader.
“I think the loss will be felt at FAS,” he said.

“GSA has had enough turmoil and change, which makes [Williams’ nomination] a good move from a stability standpoint,” Woods said.

Williams brings clout to the top office because he knows the agency so well, said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council. He won’t need to learn how the agency operates, which helps. He would have little more than six months to work as chief, even if the Senate confirms the nomination quickly.

Williams worked closely with major GSA programs, such as Networx, Alliant and Alliant Small Business governmentwide acquisition contracts. He also has been in discussions with other GSA leaders on new initiatives. For example, FAS decided this month to launch a new program management office to oversee GSA's Multiple Awards Schedules program. It is expected to be set up in July.

“I believe that he has managed FAS so well that it is unlikely to cause a major disruption in the work of FAS,” said Don Erickson, director of government relations at the Security Industry Association.

However, the nomination could upset FAS’ progress, one industry expert said. The move will leave a vacancy, and, as FAS is getting settled, the next commissioner will have different ideas about how the organization should run, said the expert, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Woods said Williams first should tell GSA employees what to expect if he becomes administrator. He then needs to reach out to GSA’s clients, unlike Doan, who promised to award industry schedules contracts in 30 days.

In recent speeches, Williams has emphasized a client-focused GSA. He wants GSA’s contracts, particularly its $36 billion schedules program, to be nimble enough to adjust to customers’ demands quickly. He said more agencies are setting up their own contracts and not turning to GSA.
“We’ve got to find ways to win them back,” he said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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