GSA’s Thomas pushing IT modernization from his front-row seat

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The Technology Modernization Fund Board is in the final stages of reviewing more than 30 proposals for the second set of awards. While there is no deadline for the board to hand out some or all of the remaining $55 million, the potential broad impact of the money is clear.

“The thing that has surprised me most about the proposals is just the technology nexus to every proposal that comes in, but in terms of the different kinds of businesses and citizen impact the proposals have, it really runs the gamut. It really gives you the breadth of the federal government’s mission and all the spaces and ways the government touches people’s lives,” Alan Thomas,  commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service at the General Services Administration, said on Ask the CIO. “I bring, obviously, an acquisition lens. I’m always focused on if someone will spend money with an industry partner, I’m looking at what vehicle are they using, is it shovel ready, and I tend to be a little bit of stickler on payback. It is a revolving fund and I happen to operate a revolving fund in GSA. The fund doesn’t revolve if the money isn’t paid back.”

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Alan Thomas is the commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service at GSA.

While the payback model was among the toughest parts for agencies to understand in the first round of proposals, Thomas said the work by the TMF program management office to help explain what the payback model looks like is making a difference.

“I think some of the early agencies thought they would get appropriations to pay back the TMF, which is absolutely, positively not how it works,” he said. “Payback should come from savings generated by the effort. You are reducing operations and maintenance costs or maybe there are productivity benefits that you are getting so you need fewer people in the organization to perform that function. Those are the sort of benefits that turn into payback that we are looking for.”

Thomas has another front-row seat for the IT modernization effort through GSA’s Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract run out of  FAS.

The Office of Management and Budget has made it clear that agencies should be looking to use EIS to modernize, but not with money from the TMF.

While early solicitations through EIS show agencies are not necessarily taking on modernization efforts, Thomas said he’s looking often at how customer agencies are using the program and how FAS is providing services.

“In terms of metrics … there is one around number of vendors through business support systems [approval] and number of agencies who are using transition assistance and have solicitations together,” he said. “For me to manage a big enterprise like this, I don’t need hundreds of numbers, I need a few metrics. From my perspective, vendors have to be ready to respond to solicitations, and agencies actually have to have the solicitations to put them on the street. So those are a couple of key metrics that I do look at.”

TMF and EIS are but two of Thomas’s major priorities. He said he’s continually talking and listening to customer agency feedback, and from that FAS is making changes.

He said one area agencies continue to be interested in is the e-commerce portal GSA is developing as a proof of concept in 2019.

“Agencies are interested in us getting something set up quickly and making sure we keep it simple,” Thomas said. “The whole point of doing a proof of concept is to gather feedback and data to inform what you might do on a much broader scale.”

Thomas said FAS has a window to make some major reforms and changes, especially with the support and knowledge of Emily Murphy, the GSA administrator.

He said GSA is making changes in policies, processes and technology to enable IT modernization and improve how FAS serves its customers.