Jim Williams | FAS Forward

Interview with Jim Williams, commissioner of GSA's Federal Acquisition Service


Rick Steele

Jim Williams is a people person. And he makes it no secret that he likes to talk.
Both qualities will be essential as he embarks on his latest challenge in what has already been a remarkable government career'reinvigorating and completing the establishment of the General Services Administration's Federal Acquisition Service.

Williams, seen as the primary driver behind the Homeland Security Department's successful U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology project, is returning for his second stint at GSA and foresees no problem in finalizing the merger of the agency's Federal Technology and Federal Supply services. 'I just came from an organization [DHS] that brought 22 agencies together,' he said. 'This one I'm in is bringing two together. I know the challenges of how to bring the people together.'

GCN: What are your impressions of GSA?

Williams: First, it's great to be back at GSA. As you know I worked here twice previously, the last time was 15 years ago. Working for Lurita Doan, frankly I didn't know her at all. I met her, immediately liked her and knew how much she cared about GSA. She came here because of a love of GSA and public service.

I believe GSA has the right ingredients to become great again. [They are:] an incredible administrator'she's going to make decisions, she's going to move fast, she's the right leadership for this agency'and the right people. The people ... believe in GSA being the premier acquisition agency to support agencies in their missions and do the right things for the taxpayers.

GCN: What are your plans for FAS?

Williams: There's been a lot of good work done over several months planning for the establishment of the FAS. I don't typically call it a reorganization or a merger'it's the establishment of service within GSA.

Lurita Doan has allowed me to take one last look at the proposed design of the structure and make sure I agree it has all the necessary agreements and the right structure to be successful. I appreciate that. I'm accountable, along with the rest of the GSA team, to make FAS a success.

I want to do that in a way that I've always done things'be able to look at it, see whether I think it's the right model, and discuss those changes with some key GSA people prior to making it final and having that discussion with Lurita'within a couple of months, at the latest.

There's been a lot of good work done, [and] I don't think I'm looking at absolute wholesale changes'I wouldn't do that. But I do want to go through a process, discussing it with the people here, and give everyone and myself a last bite at the apple, and then let's go forward and implement the thing and do it. Not just to bring about a new structure, but to accomplish the purposes that the design envisions'better service to the customers.

GCN: What are your goals for the division?

Williams: My goal is to work with Lurita Doan to make GSA and the FAS the premier acquisition service agency in the government. I like what Lurita Doan has said about putting service back in GSA. We exist to provide a service to other agencies and the American people. I believe that, as the federal government moves more into the 21st century, the need for GSA is more critical.

The need for GSA to leverage the buying power to get the best bang for the buck for the taxpayers is critical. When we bring [agencies'] requirements together, we also contribute to things like interoperability [and] standardization. I love what the administration has been doing with things like Lines of Business, like E-Travel, which GSA is handling.

By leveraging the government's buying power, by putting the government on the same platforms, it just simply makes those dollars go farther, increases the interoperability.

GCN: Administrator Doan has made it a priority to 'end the proliferation' of governmentwide acquisition contracts. Do you agree with her approach?

Williams: I agree. We need to be able to do that almost through a push-pull. The pull is, we've got to [have] the best products, services, and processes. Those agencies want to order and use our services. I think there's more instances like E-Travel, where Lurita will say, 'Wait a minute, this is the best thing. Why would you let an agency use something else?'

You're trying to make this interoperable and get the most efficiency out of it: That's the push. I think we need to ... say, 'Don't just let an agency create their own when it doesn't make any sense.' In fact, it creates a bigger vulnerability, and it's not the most effective use of money, and it's not the most effective use of scarce resources, meaning people.

GCN: Why did you leave DHS?

Williams: First of all, I had a great job at DHS as head of the U.S. Visit program. I absolutely loved it. I worked across the federal government; frankly, I worked across the world. ... When I looked at my direct reports, I would've felt comfortable if several of them replaced me. My whole career has been spent in acquisition/program management/procurement. I've loved working for the federal government. If there's one job that would've enticed me to leave [DHS], it was this one. But even that wasn't the selling point.

I will tell you, honestly, I wasn't looking to leave. This was a call that came out of the blue, and to meet Lurita Doan'she's instantly likeable. But more than that, her love and concern for GSA and understanding what I believe is that critical and central role that GSA needs to be there'for the agencies and taxpayers'and needs to be restored to its prominence. Was it hard to leave DHS? Absolutely.

GCN: Compare your time at DHS with your new position at GSA.

Williams: DHS was put together for a reason, not just to slap a bunch of boxes together. It's the same thing here. Bringing together what was Federal Supply Service and Federal Technology Service, I think a lot of that, the design and desire to do that was from the view of the customer'to better achieve results for the customer and to stop having people from GSA selling the same type of service through a different vehicle, knocking on the same door of an agency.

Agencies want us to help them. ... They don't care how we help them, but they want to know that it's coordinated with a face back to them. I think that's one of the promises and obligations of the FAS organization to fulfill'to be able to better serve the customer by leveraging the buying power and making that rationale decision on behalf of the customer. What's the best way to serve their needs? Rather than to have three different people from GSA saying, 'Pick me, pick me,' now we're going to take a coordinated approach so we know all of their needs, and now we're going to manage it well and provide you a coordinated approach.

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