GSA wants to create a permanent home for innovation with new third service

GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth announced May 3 the creation of the Technology Transformation Service, which brings together 18F, the Presidential Innovati...

The General Services Administration is going back to the future and creating a third service focused on technology.

GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth announced May 3 the creation of the Technology Transformation Service, which brings together 18F, the Presidential Innovation Fellows program and the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OCSIT).

“This service will provide technology services to our partner agencies across the government, much as the Public Buildings Service and Federal Acquisition Service do in their areas of expertise,” Turner Roth wrote in an internal message to GSA employees, which Federal News Radio obtained. “By moving these programs into a new service, we are demonstrating a firm and lasting commitment to tackle this challenge. The importance of providing technology services is reflected in GSA’s mission: Providing the best value in real estate, acquisitions and technology to government and the American people.”

Denise Turner Roth, Administrator, GSA

GSA issued a press release about the new TTS about an hour after Turner Roth’s memo went to staff.

The creation of a third service had been rumored for quite some time, including one presentation dating back to 2011.

But it didn’t come together until recently, according to several current and former GSA officials.

As to why now, sources weren’t sure. Some say it may have to do with the legacy some political appointees want to leave behind, and others say it has to do with the pressure 18F is feeling from auditors looking into their hiring and contracting practices.

“While this ties some disparate IT acquisition functions together and gives them a roof, I am not sure what other purpose putting new infrastructure in place serves,” said Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners and a longtime GSA observer. “Seems like a pretty direct slap in the face to the people in [FAS’s] Integrated Technology Service (ITS), for one thing. If I were in ITS, I’d have to ask if my service was viewed inside my own agency as the ‘chopped liver’ technology solutions delivery people. This also seems like a pretty slim set of organizations to build a service around. This service will be dwarfed in size by the other two. I get that these functions need a home, but is the best place for that an entire new service?”

No matter the reason, Turner Roth’s decision to create a third service will bring GSA back to what it resembled in the 1990s and 2000s with the Federal Supply Schedule Service and the Federal Technology Service.

In the GSA Modernization Act, which became law in 2006, Congress combined FSS and FTS into what is known as the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS).

But the new service will not be like the old FTS.

“In looking at what we’ve learned from OCSIT, 18F and PIF engagements, federal agencies are increasingly looking for assistance in identifying the best path to take or the best tools to use in implementing technological transformation,” Turner Roth wrote. “Creating a dedicated service to meet this need will enable GSA to help partner agencies better build, buy and share technology. As GSA is being asked to do more and more to solve cross-cutting technology challenges across government, this new service will also provide GSA with a platform for future emerging technology efforts.”

Turner Roth named Phaedra Chrousos, former Associate Administrator of OCSIT/18F, as the service’s first commissioner, and Aaron Snow, the executive director of 18F, as its deputy commissioner.

Additionally, Giancarlo Brizzi, currently principal deputy associate administrator in the Office of Governmentwide Policy, has been detailed to support the standup of the new service.

“This new service will complement GSA’s current technology efforts, bolstering the strong support we already provide to partner agencies and allowing us to deliver transformative technology solutions,” Turner Roth said. “The vast majority of our IT acquisition services and functions will remain in FAS’ Office of Integrated Technology Services. The ITS team serves our partners incredibly well and will continue to do so in support of GSA’s mission. In addition, FAS’s Assisted Acquisition Services and FEDSIM will continue their great work helping agencies procure complex IT solutions, OGP will continue its critical role in IT policy, and GSA IT will continue to lead GSA’s internal IT strategy and operations.”

Allen said he would be concerned about whether GSA customers would be confused over the services provided by ITS and now TTS.

“If one part of the agency can be ‘transformational’ why can’t the rest,” he said. “I don’t see why now, nor do I see that a full-sized service is appropriate for housing services of this size. This move creates a lot of organization around offices that are supposed to be agile. I can’t help wondering whether the infrastructure will slow them down.”

All three of these organizations that make up the Technology Transformation Service came about over the last seven years.

The most recent was 18F. GSA created the digital innovation hub in March 2014 with the goal of making digital services easier for the government.

The White House started the Presidential Innovation Fellows program in August 2012. And GSA created OCSIT in May 2010 from the old Office of Citizen Services and Communications.

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