Trade association TechAmerica is re-emerging from a rough fall when four key executives left suddenly to start a competing public sector organization.
Mike Hettinger, TechAmerica’s new senior vice president of the public sector, has been charged with ensuring federal contractors that TechAmerica is committed to the public sector for the long term.
“The response for the members thus far, and again, I’ve only been here 2 1/2 days, and we announced it about two weeks ago that I was coming on board, has been really positive,” Hettinger said during a briefing with reporters Wednesday in Washington. “Like a lot of you, a lot of the members know me, worked with me and I’ve worked for some of the members, which is neat. I have a unique perspective, different than your traditional trade association person. I’ve worked on the Hill. I’ve worked for member companies and I’ve come from the trade association side most recently. So the response has been very positive.”
Hettinger laid out his priorities and plans as the new head of TechAmerica’s public sector.
But in the short term, his main goal is to engender confidence in the association’s members, which include large and small government contractors.
Hettinger, who has more than 20 years of experience in the federal sector, came to TechAmerica after serving the last almost two years as vice president of the Public Sector Innovation Group for the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA).
Recovering from the loss
And he has a tough job ahead of him.
TechAmerica lost four key senior executives last November with years of experience in the public sector. Trey Hodgkins, Pam Walker, Carol Henton and Erica McCann left to start a new public sector organization for the IT Industry Council.
TechAmerica has since sued three of the four former employees as well as the IT Industry Council. It recently revealed more details of the allegations against the former employees.
Hettinger replaces Hodgkins, who was the most vocal and most widely-recognized spokesman and thought leader for TechAmerica.
The decision by those four to leave and go to the IT Industry Council was both shocking and dealt a blow to the confidence of TechAmerica.
“It’s as strategic a move as possible,” said one industry executive, who requested anonymity in order to speak more candidly and worked closely with Hettinger over the years. “It will stem any bloodletting from companies leaving or considering leaving because of Trey and his crew going to ITI. And Mike Hettinger is in a different class than Trey and [former senior vice president of the public sector] Olga [Grkavac].”
The source, who hasn’t always gotten along with or agreed with Hettinger, said Hettinger is much more aggressive than Hodgkins or Grkavac ever were, especially when it comes to issues on Capitol Hill, in advancing TechAmerica’s agenda, and that is a good trait.
But other very active TechAmerica members, who also spoke anonymously, said they were not familiar with Hettinger and couldn’t comment on him or the decision of TechAmerica to hire him. This shows Hettinger has a lot of work to get members familiar with him.
Another source says TechAmerica should have conducted a wider search and consulted with members more about who to bring in.
The other big concern that multiple sources contacted for this article said is the leadership of TechAmerica CEO and President Shawn Osborne.
Two sources say they are troubled by the continued poor treatment of staff in public settings by Osborne.
On the other hand, one source said they have been impressed by Osborne’s efforts to meet with vendor executives to convince them to remain with TechAmerica.
Sources say several large companies, including Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, have decided or are close to deciding to stay on with TechAmerica. Sources say other companies are waiting for the first few months to see how TechAmerica commits to the public sector before renewing their memberships.
“TechAmerica is expensive, and we are in that process of re-looking at all of our memberships and how they fit into broader plans,” said one industry executive. “Shawn is making a concerted effort to re-ignite the team and fill the needed talent space that was lost with the departures. They are in a rebuilding phase. TechAmerica has lost some companies, but not necessarily because of Trey and his team leaving, but for other reasons like budget cuts or rethinking their marketing budgets. But TechAmerica has also added companies too.”
Part of the reason why Hodgkins and others left was a concern over the commitment by TechAmerica to the public sector.
Hettinger said he received strong assurances from Osborne and the TechAmerica board of directors that the public sector remains a top priority.
“I asked and was reassured, and everything I’ve seen in essentially the month that I’ve been involved in the various discussions and my 2 1/2 days here lead me to believe we are 110 percent committed to the public sector,” he said. “I’ve run around this organization in different capacities for 15 years. I know what it brings to the industry as a whole. I don’t see any signs that say we are not 110 percent committed to the public sector. That’s the reality. I’ll be very blunt, I asked and if I didn’t see that, I wouldn’t be here.”
Hettinger said TechAmerica already has done some realigning of resources and has been filling out the public sector staff:
David Logsdon now is the senior director for the federal civil public sector focusing on cloud computing, big data, aviation, commercial space as well as identity management.
Scott Bousum oversees TechAmerica’s efforts around procurement policy, defense and cybersecurity.
Burak Guvensoylar’s portfolio includes international trade, environmental and energy policy, as well as health care and human services.
Liam Crawford manages immigration, education and workforce policy, as well as homeland security.
Joe Rubin manages the information and communication technologies sector, which includes privacy, cybersecurity and data security.
Martin Quigley provides policy support services across the public sector portfolio.
Hettinger said TechAmerica plans to make three more hires in the coming weeks including someone to run the state and local public sector organization.
In the meantime, the association is gearing up to take on several ongoing and new priorities, including cloud, big data, cyber and mobile as well as adding more focus around health IT and education.
Hettinger said the public sector market is evolving once again and TechAmerica will change with it.
“We are starting to see more of a convergence in the market. The focus now is on mobile technologies and leveraging social media. And as a result, we will focus more attention on those areas. The government is now learning to leverage these technologies more effectively,” he said. “If you look at the traditional desktop, it’s changing. We are starting to see more of these hybrid technologies where It’s a pad and it’s a laptop, and you can do different things with it. It’s a neat change and it will really add a lot of mobile computing power for federal employees.”
Hettinger said TechAmerica wants to expand its focus to those things that make government more efficient and effective from one that traditionally looked mainly at procurement issues.
IT acquisition reform a top issue
IT acquisition reform will be probably among the biggest areas of focus for TechAmerica in the coming year.
He said for procurement reform to happen in the industry, the White House and Congress must all work together on the issues.
“What you want to try to do is figure out what the systemic problems are and put together some legislative or administrative provisions that address those systemic problems, as opposed to this piecemeal, one-off approach to try to address some of these acquisition problems,” Hettinger said. “The idea that we know we have a talent gap in IT acquisition personnel is something the entire industry has come together on over the last few years and continues to push. It was something in the original 25-point plan [from the Office of Management and Budget].”
He said the idea of an IT acquisition center of excellence, as called for in FITARA, also makes sense. TechAmerica would like to see the details before fully supporting it, however, TechAmerica does support the legislation to give agency chief information officers more authority over their IT budgets.
Hettinger said he expects TechAmerica to continue to be a part of the listening and education sessions the White House is holding with companies on IT acquisition reform.
The association also will have to do more education on Capitol Hill about the procurement and IT issues because so many members don’t understand the complexities of the process.
Hettinger said TechAmerica also is paying close attention to things such the executive compensation cap for contractors and the proposals for more security clearance reforms. He didn’t offer any details on their positions or what they will do.
As far as the organization’s health IT focus, Hettinger said a plan of action should be coming later this year.