Seat management duties mean musical chairs for her priorities

Seat management duties mean musical chairs for her priorities

By Caron Golden

Special to GCN



Gabrielle James

As GSA's contracting officer for the Seat Management Program, she has learned to expect the unexpected from each workday.


If there were one word to describe Gabrielle James during her workday, it would have to be "flexible," she says.

There's no such thing as a routine day for the General Services Administration's contracting officer for the Seat Management Program. She has to be able to accommodate a last-minute meeting or urgent briefing, or reschedule a phone interview. And she likes it that way.

"My priorities are adjusted daily," she said. "I like to go with the flow. I like the spontaneity. It keeps things interesting."

James has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Nazareth College in Kalamazoo, Mich., and a master's degree in information systems management from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Many hats

The combination has proved useful in a job she described as a hybrid that combines consulting on contracts with various government agencies issuing task orders and marketing GSA's young Seat Management Program to agencies that could benefit from the program's cost savings and efficiencies.

"I give briefings to agencies on the program and respond to a lot of phone calls and e-mails from agencies that have questions about the program and how to complete task orders," she said. "I used to issue them myself. Now I work with other agencies, as well as GSA regions, so they can issue their own."

She also deals with eight contractors, gleaning information for agencies as they sign on to the program.

The job requires a lot of travel, but most of it is local. She works in a GSA satellite office in Falls Church, Va., a 10-mile commute from her home and 15 minutes from downtown Washingtonhome to most of the agencies with which she works. That means she can spend more time with her two children instead of on the road.

"It's a nine-hour day; some days are longer. I'm at the office before 8 a.m. I go there directly after dropping off my 7-year-old daughter at school," she said. 'Thankfully, my 14-year-old son can now get himself off to school."

Mornings can be hectic for the family, but James keeps everyone organized with a family planner that she and her children are responsible for checking.

That way, nobody can claim they didn't know about an after-school event, community center board meeting or church activity.

Plug the drain

It's an improvement over her days as a workaholic, she said.

"When I had one child I stayed at work too long. After moving here four years ago, I made sure I balanced family and work life. The job will drain you if you let it."

The job at GSA, which she has had for just over a year, has brought a change in working environment for the Detroit native.

For 11 years she had been at the Defense Department as a contracting officer. She laughs when she recalls the formalities of the military environment and her inability to identify ranks.

"Just to be safe I started calling everyone 'sir' or 'madam,' and I still do out of habit," she said.

James' arrival at GSA coincided with the agency's launch of its Seat Management Program. The concept of PC outsourcing was still fairly new, and agencies have not rushed to sign on to the idea, though the program has made progress.

So far, James has been through the complete task order process three times, working with GSA, the Treasury Department and the Housing and Urban Development Department's Office of the Inspector General.

The most challenging part of the process is the implementation, she said.

"It's a great concept but a lot of work to implement. Previous contracting for information technology support has been fragmented; there's no consolidated record, and we have to help people transition to that."

"You have to work with project managers who have the technical expertise so you can put the whole projectwith the day-to-day needs—together."

After picking up her daughter from school in the evening and going to the gym several times a weekwhere she does more work-related reading while cycling on a recumbent bikeshe and her children have dinner together and catch up on the day.

Then comes homework for both the children and the parent. To make sure that the agencies are on track with their task orders, James has a steady pile of bedside reading.

Plenty of homework

"I read statements of work and requirements and review procedural documents. I want to make sure that they're consistent with the master contract we use," James said.

Given her expertise and the financial windfalls people are making in high technology, why hasn't she gone over to the private sector?

"I worked in private industry at the beginning of my career and found it wasn't flexible enough for my family obligations," she said.

"I get that with the government and have received promotions quickly based on the broad experience I've gained."

The relocations that have come with her government jobs—from St. Louis to Denver and then to northern Virginiahave been tough, she said. "But I've gained invaluable experience by working in different organizations."

"I've proven myself," she said. "I don't want to start over again at this point in my career, and I've earned the flexibility I need to balance my work and family life."

Caron Golden is a free-lance writer in San Diego.

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