Oversight

Is GSA getting too political?

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Some lawmakers told top IT acquisition officials at the General Services Administration they were concerned over the politicization of the agency's Federal Acquisition Service, but said they were also interested in pushing ahead with acquisition reform efforts at the agency.

Shifting the FAS commissioner position from career level employee to political appointee for the first time in the agency's history, said Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), in a July 12 joint hearing of the House Oversight Committee's IT and Government Operations subcommittee, "is downright frightening under this administration."

The hearing came just a day after GSA announced it was temporarily abandoning a multibillion dollar plan to relocate the FBI from its aging downtown headquarters to a new facility in the Washington, D.C. area.

GSA moved the Technology Transformation Service under the Federal Acquisition Service shortly after the departure of its long-time Commissioner Tom Sharpe. Sharpe, a career federal employee, was replaced by a political appointee, Alan Thomas.

Connolly said GSA had told Oversight Committee staff the change was directed by the White House.

"President Trump has the ability to fire the FAS commissioner at the same time that he has pending business at GSA, existing contracts with other agencies and receives subsidies from other government programs," Connolly said.

He told Thomas, who said he has been on the job 12 days, that he wasn't questioning his integrity, but ensuring the FAS commissioner "is protected from inappropriate political pressures."

Making the FAS commissioner a political appointee "just taints the process," Connolly told FCW after the hearing. "The timing is wrong for this."

Ranking IT subcommittee member Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) said she also had "serious concerns about the politicization of the FAS commissioner position, especially given the recent decision to expand FAS responsibility to include TTS."

The reorganization came after the abrupt departures of Sharpe and his Deputy Commissioner Kevin Youel Page. Sharpe left after a bitter battle over the way GSA was funding TTS through the Acquisition Service Fund, which he oversaw.

Connolly also noted that Sharpe was backed by reports from the GSA Inspector General's Office and the Office of Special Council that found the agency had "grossly mismanaged" TTS, including its use of the fund. Shifting TTS to FAS, he said, "does very little to address the management challenges" facing TTS and 18F.

Despite the recent shakeup and reorganization, newly installed FAS Commissioner Thomas and Deputy Commissioner and TTS Director Rob Cook told lawmakers they were committed to helping smooth out federal IT acquisition in general.

Thomas told the panel he is eager to apply his private-sector experiences helping technology start-ups that were on GSA's IT Schedule 70 and other multiple awards contracts find ways to improve. Thomas also told lawmakers that he had experience managing a business unit for "one of the most successful government-wide acquisition contract Alliant small business prime contract holders."

"I'm committed to streamlining and simplifying procurement," he said.

He told Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) that he would help the lawmaker shape legislation that would help support commercial marketplaces federal agencies could use to get faster, less expensive IT products and services.

Meadows introduced H.R. 3019, the Promoting Value Based Procurement Act of 2017, in late June. There is also a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that would foster open commercial market efforts, Meadows said.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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Reader comments

Thu, Jul 13, 2017

Unfortunately, politics is pervasive in Federal Agencies, but that is the nature of the beast in this town. Let's give Thomas and Cook a chance. Maybe, good things will happen. I am not really optimistic, but somewhat hopeful. We can revisit my hopefulness later this year or next.

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