GSA's Wohlleben decides to go private

After more than 25 years as a public-sector employee, Paul Wohlleben last week called
his federal career history.

Wohlleben, most recently the chief information officer for the General Services
Administration’s Public Buildings Service, took a job as director of information
technology consultants for the Washington office of Grant Thorton LLP of Chicago.

It is a move that Wohlleben said he had planned for some time. “I always had in my
mind that I’d have a second career,” he said.

Having become a father for the third time this summer, Wohlleben, 47, said he never
expected to move to a private-sector job so soon. “It’s not that I was going to
get out at 55 and work for a few years,” he said.

But the rate of technological innovation brought the new career sooner than he had
originally anticipated. In the end, he said, “I thought it would make more sense for
me to have a longer second career.”

After serving in the Air Force as part of the Airborne Ranger Artillery, Wohlleben
started his civil career at the Treasury Department where he worked on financial programs.
He then took a management post at the Environmental Protection Agency and began to see his
financial work blend with systems issues. When he left EPA last year, he had risen through
the ranks to the post of deputy CIO.

Wohlleben, a former leader of the Association for Federal IRM, said there are many
factors that go into a person’s decision to work for government.

“I think the decisions are very personal ones. Certainly mine was,” he said.

At least a part of the issue is salary, he said, but career choices are not only about
money. Wohlleben joked that there is a price at which he would put aside other personal
considerations. “It’s hard to imagine the government stepping up to that,”
he said.

The government faces not only a problem keeping people at the executive level, but in
the lower grades, too, he said. At entry-level grades, the government has trouble
attracting new blood and developing young talent, Wohlleben said.

“It’s not just whether we can invest in leaders. I think the rest of it is a
bigger problem,” he said.

One way to help would be better training and education, Wohlleben said. But with a
flatter federal work force, it becomes difficult for people to get away for training
sessions, he said. “I don’t think there are enough [IT] people out there,
whether it’s in government or out of government,” he said.

“My strategy has been to attempt to leverage federal people as much as we
can,” Wohlleben said. Agencies must come up with innovative ways to solve problems
and shift more work to the private sector, he said.

At the Public Buildings Service, Wohlleben said, he helped form a center through which
the service can outsource more work, especially systems development. “We have to be
smarter,” and in many cases that means resisting the urge to tell contractors how to
do the work, he said.

It is difficult “when you’ve been doing it one way and you have to figure out
new ways that work,” Wohlleben said.

For Wohlleben, leaving government had to do partially with a desire to work on IT
issues in a new arena. “It’s not just: ‘I want to go make more money.’
I want to attack the problem from a different angle,” he said.  

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