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Cook calls FAS-TTS merger ‘a cleaner arrangement’

June 30, 2017 (Photo Credit: Carten Cordell/Staff)
While the news of the General Service Administration’s merger of the Federal Acquisition Service with the Technology Transformation Services has made plenty of waves, TTS Commissioner Rob Cook said he doesn’t expect its application to make much of a ripple.

Speaking at the 2017 DATA Act Summit on June 29, Cook said that move, which shifts GSA innovation and technology arms back into FAS, provides a little more clarity on funding, but won’t alter operations.

“We are moving over into the Federal Acquisition Service for some technical reasons,” he said. “Our funding and our authorities come from them. It was an awkward arrangement. This is much cleaner. It doesn’t really change fundamentally who we are or what we are doing.

“Functionally, it’s going to make it easier and better internally. But in terms of what we are doing day-to-day, that shouldn’t change at all.”

The move has not been without controversy, however. Hours after Cook spoke, an inspector general’s report detailed how the creation of TTS was fraught with disagreement between then-GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth, who instituted the service, and former FAS commissioner Tom Sharpe, who opposed it.

Part of the dispute centered on how TTS would be paid for — following the precedent of innovation components like 18F, the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies and the Presidential Innovation Fellows — coming from the Acquisition Services Fund, which was administered by Sharpe.

The OIG report detailed how Sharpe disagreed with the proposed funding structures for TTS and would later allege whistleblower retaliation against Roth, a charge investigators upheld.

Once the dust settled, the Trump administration made the decision to merge the two services, clarifying the funding structure and making the FAS commissioner a political appointee rather than a senior executive. Sharpe and Deputy FAS Commissioner Kevin Youel Page both resigned effective on June 24.

New FAS Commissioner Alan Thomas was sworn in on June 26, he said the merger would make the service integral to the Trump administration’s innovation efforts.

"My philosophy and approach for combining the mission and the resources of TTS and FAS is to, first, listen intently, starting with the internal GSA team and our customers, then widening to encompass our industry partners and external stakeholders," he said.  

"I want to ensure that we are providing the best possible products and services to our partners in government and delivering value for American taxpayers." 

When Cook — who became TTS commissioner on Oct. 31 — was asked about the future role of 18F in promoting the advancement of agile development, he said he expected the office to continue to evolve but also be firmly grounded in its agile roots.

“I think it will change, the role will change,” he said. “I think our hope is just that this becomes the way that things work. The technologies themselves are going to change.

“Who knows what that will look like in 10 years? But the basic process of dealing with a really complex set of technology and making it serve people so it feels natural and serves their means is that basic process of including users in the center of design and being very agile about the way we respond to them, it’s just a way of working that’s here to stay."
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