Customer, consultant, contractor: Thomas’ 3 perspectives in leading GSA’s acquisition service

Alan Thomas, who became the fourth commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service at the General Services Administration June 26, knows a little something about teamwork.

As a basketball player for Grinnell College in Iowa in the late 1980s, Thomas said he learned that teams are successful if everyone understands and plays their roles, trust each other and builds a coalition to accomplish a shared purpose.

That basic philosophy is one he now is bringing to FAS.

Alan Thomas was sworn in on June 26 as the fourth commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service.

“I’m going to be a leader without presumption who is transparent to my interactions with staff, customers, industry and stakeholders,” Thomas said June 26 after being sworn at GSA headquarters in Washington, D.C. “So as we get to know each other over the next few months, expect an emphasis on results and performance. Too many organizations get caught in the state of constant change where they spend too much time forming and storming without spending enough time performing and enjoying the journey.”

Thomas said he will spend the initial weeks as FAS commissioner listening to internal partners across the country and relying on advisers such as Mary Davie, the assistant commissioner of the Integrated Technology Category, and Rob Cook, the deputy FAS commissioner for the Technology Transformation Service, to better understand the organization’s culture and how things get done.

This will be especially important as TTS merges into the FAS.

“Observing our organization’s ecosystem from my vantage point as an outsider will provide valuable insight into how we achieve our goals,” Thomas said. “When we meet — and I’m going to travel and I look forward to meeting everybody in the regions — when we meet, I’m going to be asking three questions: What is most important to keep? What’s most important to change? And what are the obstacles to change? The only expectation I bring is that our culture is compatible with my core values of honesty, courage and graciousness.”

Thomas has some healing to do. The merger of TTS into FAS came as a shock to many people across GSA.

And undoubtedly there will be some hangover from the sudden resignation of both Tom Sharpe, the FAS commissioner for the past four years that Thomas is replacing, as well as Kevin Youel Page, the FAS deputy commissioner. While many observers weren’t surprised Sharpe retired, many in the federal community were surprised Youel Page decided to leave GSA so soon.

In becoming the FAS commissioner, Thomas said will rely on his experience as a contractor, a federal employee and a consultant.

As a consultant, Thomas worked for Booz Allen Hamilton as part of the team that helped GSA merge its Federal Technology Service and its Federal Supply Service into FAS.

As a contractor, Thomas led two small firms that found success with GSA’s schedules and Alliant Small Business contracts.

Finally, as a federal employee, Thomas worked at the Defense Department where he used the Mission Oriented Business Integrated Services (MOBIS) schedule to buy professional services for research and development efforts.

He said as commissioner he will pull from his experience across all three sectors since “no industry operates in a vacuum.”

“I am excited and optimistic about what we can accomplish together. I am grateful to Tom and Kevin for providing able leadership over the past several years and leaving behind a solid foundation with good people,” Thomas said. “We now get to build upon that foundation and help execute an ambitious government reform agenda laid out by this administration. The acquisition and technology professionals within GSA are in the white-hot center of that reform agenda. Together, we are going to make a lasting impact and we are going to have fun doing it.”