GSA combines tech and procurement services, names new FAS commissioner

The General Services Administration is backtracking on a 2016 reorg that established the Technology Transformation Service as a separate agency division.

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This article was updated June 9

The General Services Administration is backtracking on a 2016 reorg that established the Technology Transformation Service as a separate agency division.

Under a reorganization announced June 7, the technology shop is being folded into the Federal Acquisition Service. The TTS is apparently losing some organizational clout, but it is getting an extra 's'. It is now known as the Technology Transformation Services. Rob Cook will continue to lead the organization as FAS deputy commissioner.

Alan Thomas, a former program analyst in the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, is the new FAS commissioner. He will join the organization in the coming weeks, according to a memo from acting GSA Administrator Timothy Horne.

A political appointee, Thomas replaces Tom Sharpe, a career federal executive who has led FAS since 2013. Horne's memo did not mention a new role for Sharpe, but according to a GSA source, Sharpe will continue to serve as commissioner until Thomas steps into his new role.

"By placing all of the offices focused on government modernization into one organization, GSA will be better able to leverage its expertise and assets in support of the White House and its Office of American Innovation," Horne said.

Just over a year ago, in May 2016, the TTS was established by the Obama administration to house the innovation group 18F and the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technology, and to signal a focus on technology upgrades governmentwide. Former GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth, who led that effort, has questions about the reorganization.

"I created the Technology Transformation Service as a stand-alone service because federal government agencies are in desperate need for technology modernization, and TTS is poised to be a strong partner under the current leadership of Rob Cook and the talented team of people at GSA. Any realignment should be aimed at undergirding the organization's management," Roth said. 

Roth wants Congress to review the change and "ask tough questions regarding the ongoing commitment to technology by the current administration," she said, adding, "It's essential that the administration does not walk back from important efforts to optimize and modernize the management of the federal technology footprint to achieve a smarter, responsive government that is accessible to the public."    

Rich Beutel, an acquisition attorney and former senior legislative staffer who led the drafting of the FITARA legislation, welcomed the move. He said he expects "broader alignment and more cohesive agency policy" from the new streamlined organization.

He cited cloud computing as one example. "Different groups within GSA had different views about how government ought to acquire and deploy cloud writ large," Beutel said. While he doesn't favor a one-sized-fits-all approach to cloud, Beutel also said that "having different answers supported by different constituencies within GSA wasn't helpful."

Beutel added that having the FAS commissioner serve as a political appointee makes sense, "in terms of aligning the activities of GSA with the priorities of this administration."

The TTS is also designated as the home of the $500 million technology transformation fund envisioned by the Managing Government Technology Act. That bill, which passed the House in May, is still being discussed in the Senate before moving to a committee markup.

Acting federal CIO Margie Graves, speaking at BMC's June 7 event on digital enterprise management, said the Office of Management and Budget expects "requests for technical assistance and some back-and-forth with the Senate," but had so far heard little in the way of objections to the bill.

"We’re seeing no indications that this is anything but a bipartisan or even nonpartisan play," she said, "so we have great expectations that it should be passed."

Troy K. Schneider contributed to this report.

Correction: This article originally misidentified the Pentagon experience of the incoming FAS Commissioner. Alan Thomas was a program analyst in the office of the undersecretary of acquisition and logistics, and was not the undersecretary himself. 

NEXT STORY: OMB seeks IT specialists

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