GSA names career executive as procurement chief

A career civil servant will become the first permanent commissioner of the General Services Administration's consolidated procurement organization, the agency announced Monday.

Jim Williams, who has served as director of the Homeland Security Department's U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology project since July 2003, will head GSA's nascent Federal Acquisition Service, which was created as part of an ongoing reorganization.

Williams said he probably will report to work within the next few weeks, although no firm date has been set. Marty Wagner, the acting commissioner, will return to his previous position as head of GSA's Office of Governmentwide Policy, according to an agency statement.

GSA is "on a little bit of a down cycle now, and I want to work with all the good people there to help make GSA great," Williams told Government Executive. "It's important that the government continue to leverage the buying power that it has through a central agency like GSA." "Jim has a successful track record of planning and executing successful reorganization strategies," said Lurita Doan, GSA's recently confirmed administrator.

This marks Williams' third tour at GSA. In the mid-1980s, he spent about two years working on the Federal Technology Service 2000 telecommunications contract. From 1989 to 1991, he was director of the local telecommunications procurement division. Prior to joining DHS, he was a deputy associate commissioner for program management at the Internal Revenue Service, and was involved in that agency's modernization effort.

Williams will lead an organization unsettled by a still incomplete reorganization. Both congressional appropriations committees have signed off on the merger of FTS with the Federal Supply Service into FAS, a condition Congress imposed as part of a fiscal 2006 spending bill.

But a bill combining the two organizations' revolving funds has yet to clear the full Senate. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the bill (H.R. 2066) last month, about a year after it passed the House.

Many GSA observers had predicted the FAS commissioner position would be filled by a political appointee. When GSA began its merger of two procurement organizations into one, then-Administrator Stephen Perry indicated the position should be political, said Sandra Bates, a former FTS commissioner who is now an executive consultant for Vienna, Va.-based Topside Consulting.

A civil servant has a better chance than a political appointee of surviving the inevitable turnover when the next presidential administration assumes power in 2009. Some GSA observers have said Doan's greatest limitation could be the likely 30-month ceiling to her tenure.

Williams brings both experience and a fresh perspective to GSA, Bates said. "He doesn't have any baggage. It's a clean slate. He doesn't have any interest in what happened in the past," she said. At the same time, Williams' experience in government means that he won't face a steep learning curve, Bates said.

Williams' appointment comes about six months after the first acting commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service, Barbara Shelton, stepped down.

The time for a permanent commissioner is clearly here, said Frank Pugliese, a former Federal Supply Service commissioner and now managing director of DuPont Government Business Development. "Let's be done with actors, and let's get some real players," he said.

"Jim Williams is a no-nonsense, get-it-done guy," Pugliese said. "Jim is a man of few words, but he'll get it done."

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