VA, DISA bring in new acquisition executives

It feels like you can’t go by a week without another federal IT executive or two or three leaving for the private sector or the Florida sun.

And while the path to the private sector and retirement remain well traveled, the good news is reinforcements are arriving.

At the Veterans Affairs Department, Secretary Robert Wilkie appointed Karen Brazell as the new principal executive director for the Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction, on Aug. 6.

Karen Brazell is the new principal executive director for the Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction.

Brazell replaced Greg Giddens who retired in November after 37 years in government.

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In her new role, Brazell oversees acquisition, contract administration and supply-chain processes for VA as well as serving as the agency’s chief acquisition officer.

One of her big focus areas likely will be VA’s continued focus to improve its construction project management. In January 2016, Giddens launched an initiative to improve the project and program management of projects around five core principles.

In January, VA said the Rocky Mountain Regional Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado, was 98 percent complete, and the department expected patients to begin using the new medical center in August.

In addition to construction challenges, Brazell will have a full plate with the agency moving to the cloud in a big way, is trying to bring in new technologies more quickly through a Lighthouse initiative, and continues to struggle with IT logistics initiatives.

Before coming to VA, Brazell has worked in several different government organizations and served in the Army for four years in the 1980s.

She comes to VA after serving as the chief of staff for the White House Military Office, where she oversaw strategic planning, engagement planning, communication product development, staff coordination and integration, special projects, policy development, and resource management.  She also was deputy director of the Acquisition and Resource Integration for the Naval Facilities Command.

Additionally, Brazell spent 17 years as a contractor in the Defense sector before joining the DoD civilian service in 2006.

The Defense Information Systems Agency also filled a key acquisition position by naming Carlen Capenos as its newest Office of Small Business Programs (OSBP) director.

Capenos started in her new role on Aug. 6 after spending the last 22 years working for the Department of Defense in contracting and with small businesses. She has been with DISA since 2015.

She replaces Sharon Jones, who retired in April after 40 years of federal service.

Capenos moves into her new role with a goal of continuing to expand DISA’s contracting success with small businesses. The agency reports that in fiscal 2018 it awarded $1.7 billion in prime contracts to small businesses. These 6,522 contract actions represented 28.2 percent of all contracts awarded by DISA.

Capenos joined DISA in 2015 where she worked as the chief of the acquisition resources and special projects branch. Prior to that, she worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a number of roles including as the deputy for small business programs and as chief of the Secure Environment Contracting Branch.

Labor, USDA put out help wanted signs

While VA and DISA added new executives, the Agriculture and the Labor departments are looking at resumes to fill key positions.

Tony Cossa, who served in significant technology roles at USDA including as director of cloud strategy and acting chief technology officer, left government after more than a decade to join Oracle. Cossa is a senior product strategist for the software giant.

Cossa spent the last four months working as a senior advisor on Agriculture’s technology modernization effort under the White House’s Center of Excellence (CoE) initiative.

He also worked at the General Services Administration for four years and the Homeland Security Department.

Over at Labor, Mika Cross jumped to the private sector after spending nearly three years working as the director of strategic communications, digital and public engagement for the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service.

Cross is now vice president of employer engagement and strategic initiatives at Flexjobs, a service that helps workers find flexible/telecommuting jobs from multiple sectors.

In addition to her time at Labor, Cross set up a well-respected telework program at USDA, worked at the Office of Personnel Management as a HR consultant and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as the director of work/life and flexible workplace strategy.

Read more of the Reporter’s Notebook