Acting acquisition commissioner at GSA steps down

Barbara Shelton's reign over procurement at the General Services Administration will end Dec. 21 when she steps down as acting commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service. She will return to her previous job as GSA's regional administrator of the mid-Atlantic region.

Marty Wagner, the associate administrator for GSA's office of governmentwide policy, will replace her.

Shelton's departure comes as little surprise to many in the federal acquisition community.

"I think Barbara served her function as a transition leader, but from the beginning it was not envisioned that she would be there for the long term," said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting in Jenkintown, Pa. Shelton joined GSA headquarters in February 2005.

Weeks of speculation preceded GSA's official Nov. 28 announcement. Shelton is closely linked with former GSA Administrator Stephen Perry, who left the agency Oct. 31. "Once Stephen Perry left, it was basically almost a matter of time," said one industry official who asked to remain anonymous.

Shelton initially attracted criticism for her lack of experience. She hastened further disapproval by making herself inaccessible and insisting that she always be addressed as "Miss Shelton," some government acquisition observers say.

Her job was difficult, however. Following pressure from the House Government Reform Committee, GSA reorganized its acquisition organization, merging its two services into a single Federal Acquisition Service. Shelton served as the acting commissioner for the two outgoing acquisition services, as well as the acting head of the nascent combined organization.

The reorganization is incomplete and must still clear some congressional hurdles.

"It's tough coming in from a region to manage a central office because what's required is a different skill set, and the scope of work is different," said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. Different constituencies vie for influence within GSA, the Office of Management and Budget and the private sector, Allen added. "A lot of wild cards, a lot of variables, and it's tough to rein it all in when you're trying to get everything done," he said.

The new commissioner will face a host of additional challenges. Wagner "has some very definite ideas about what GSA should be," Allen said. "I think it will be interesting to work with him on those."

GSA "has been adrift for a while, and has lacked a vision," Suss said. Wagner is "the kind of person that can both help to formulate the vision for where they need to go and to help execute it," he added.

Wagner was a force behind instituting e-government in federal agencies, but since the Office of Management and Budget said in late 2004 that it would cut his policy shop's budget by 15 percent, Wagner has been underemployed, some government observers say.

"Marty is a perfect person for this job at this time," said Sandy Bates, a former commissioner of one of the two merged GSA acquisition services. "He will be able to take the new service to the next steps."

John Sindelar, currently the deputy associate administrator for the office of governmentwide policy, will serve as acting associate administrator.

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