Recruiting a top tech exec into government

GSA’s search for a commissioner to lead its Technology Transformation Service hinges on public-mindedness.

Denise Turner Roth.

GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth says finding the right person to run the Technology Transformation Service is less a science than an art.

The General Services Administration's search for an exceptional candidate to lead its Technology Transformation Service cannot rely on simply posting an ad on the federal jobs website.

As GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth told FCW, the next commissioner of TTS must be an extraordinary leader and a visionary IT thinker. A traditional job search won't suffice. "It's a different kind of effort," she said.

The agency formally kicked off its search to replace TTS' inaugural commissioner, Phaedra Chrousos, on July 11. Although GSA did place an ad on USAJobs, that listing is more of a placeholder, according to Roth. And although both Chrousos and Roth have said the hire could come from within government, the TTS commissioner slot is not being treated as a career Senior Executive Service position.

TTS is home to some of the federal government's highest-profile digital transformation efforts — 18F, the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program. Each has been controversial on occasion, and all continue to evolve.

Roth said finding the right person for such a highly visible position requires active recruiting in Cambridge, Mass.; Silicon Valley; Seattle; and other tech hot spots. And it involves working contacts at top universities and technology companies across the country.

Chrousos herself came to GSA via a nontraditional path. The co-founder of two New York City-based startups, Chrousos met then-GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini through the Partnership for Public Service and became the agency's first chief customer officer in June 2014.

In 2015, she was named associate administrator of the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies and was tasked with overseeing 18F. She became commissioner of TTS when 18F, FedRAMP and the PIF program were rolled into the new organization.

Roth said finding the right person for the position is less a science than an art. "It can be word-of-mouth" that brings in the right person rather than traditional recruiting techniques, she added, although she left open the possibility of hiring a headhunter to boost the agency's reach.

The job, however, isn't like a typical executive leadership position in the corporate world, Roth said. The fact that it's a public-service job is one of its strongest selling points, she added. Companies compete for top-level executives by offering huge incentive packages and perks, but instead of cash, the TTS commissioner's primary reward will be the opportunity to propel the federal government into the 21st century with new technology and acquisition methods.

She said the message to prospective candidates is simple: "You can change the world."

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