Mary Davie: Exit interview

After 30 years at the General Services Administration, Mary Davie is headed for a new innovation post at NASA.

Mary Davie is awarded the 2016 Eagle Award

After over 30 years of service at the General Services Administration, Mary Davie is moving to NASA to apply her expertise in collaboration, managing and buying IT to another agency's mission.

The four-time FCW Federal 100 Award winner, and 2016 Government Eagle Award winner, will become deputy associate administrator, Mission Support Transformation at the space agency's Mission Support Directorate.

Her first day on the new job is Feb. 3.

Davie has seen tech change a lot over the course of her career. She helped GSA and federal agency partners wrangle those changes in multiple senior roles, including acting Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) Commissioner and Federal Acquisition Service Deputy Commissioner. As assistant commissioner of the FAS Office of Integrated Technology Services (ITS) from 2011 to 2017, she oversaw the federal government's IT acquisition workforce, managing 7,000 contracts and $3.5 billion in federal spending.

Before that, Davie oversaw the Federal Systems Integration and Management Center (FedSIM) for over 10 years.

Over the years, Davie has also been a leader on a slew of cross-cutting acquisition and IT initiatives, including strategic sourcing, category management and the proposed (but currently stalled) Office of Personnel Management (OPM) merger that would have established a human resources service inside GSA.

She talked with FCW about the span of her career at GSA, how the agency has fared and how it can focus on some jobs she's leaving behind.

Since you began work at GSA, IT has advanced in giant leaps, from desktop computers, floppy discs, and local and long distance telecom services, to cloud computing, software-as-a-service, and robotics automation to name just a few. How has GSA fared through those changes?

It's worked out great. When I started at GSA, we were on typewriters and pagers. GSA has always been at the forefront of trying out and employing new technology, keeping up with what industry was doing. GSA has always been willing to test things out, like new platforms.

We were going to do a federal technology service acquisition platform back in the 90s. That didn't work out, but what that says is GSA is always willing to be forward-thinking and try things. Sometimes they work out, like with our cloud implementation and Gmail and Google and being first in that space, and now with AI and process automation. It's always been a culture of innovation and being a leader in government. Even back in the 90s, that was always the case.

How has GSA's role in IT acquisition changed since you started there?

When I first started with FedSIM, it had been a small group within the Air Force in the 80s. GSA acquired them. It had been the Federal Systems Computer Modeling and Simulation Center. These guys were highly technical people doing computer simulation. Demand from other agencies started to outgrow the staff we had on hand. We launched the first GWAC [government wide acquisition contract], but it couldn't really be a GWAC because it wasn't available for all agencies to buy from. It was an IDIQ [Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract] called 9500 and then 9600.

It was FedSIM trying to augment its own capability to do more in IT acquisition and technical computer modeling projects. We grew with what came after, with the Millenia [Information Technology] contact, [GSA's $25 billion IT IDIQ contract in the early 2000's], and Alliant.

The growth and complexity of what people were buying kept growing. When I started at FedSIM, a lot of what I was doing to support the Environmental Protection Agency, Commerce Department and the Army was relatively small IT hardware buys or small systems implementation.

Things started to blossom, particularly with the Army. They were looking to build local area networks for tactical use, in a box that could be taken into the field. Those things were out there. Again, we had to know what kind of companies could offer those kinds of technologies and how GSA could partner with them to offer that, as well as project management, financial management services offerings.

We've really had to stay in tune with IT and the best way to buy those things and know who the providers are. Like cloud. It's a consumption-based model—what does that mean to the traditional terms of acquisition and contracting. How do we buy things on demand?

There's been a ton of change with a lot more to come.

You see other agencies doing agile acquisition, trying to do things more quickly. I've always been a big believer in openness and transparency in what we buy and getting the right people at the table to help figure out how to buy it.

Shared services have gone through a number of changes since the 1990s. How will the Quality Services Management Offices [QSMOs], effort continue at GSA after you leave?

We have [former Deputy CIO for enterprise services at Health and Human Services] Amy Haseltine, who came over in October to replace Dave Vargas as NewPay director.

NewPay falls under the HR QSMO umbrella. That's where our focus is. That's where the administration has said they really want to insure we can take this forward. The government spent a long time over the last few years coming together to determine where to start with shared services.

The [Office of Shared Solutions and Performance Improvement], the [Open Government Partnership] and GSA have spent a lot of time talking about what the opportunities would be for shared services. They said as a group, "let's tackle payroll."

The first thing you have to do if you're going to do true shared services, is tackle and agree on standards. That was the first place they could get standards to agree on working with OPM.

You have to be very thoughtful about how to move ahead and what comes next. You can't just start picking other things out, if the standards aren't there and the market isn't picking up on it.

The focus on payroll is critical to prove out that we can do this and that we have methodically thought it through. There is a governance structure in place that OSSPI runs. It's a key initiative under the President's Management Agenda. We've got the task orders awarded there's a team in place. Industry has to see it as a real opportunity to see the government can do shared services and that it can create new marketplaces for industry.

The focus has to remain on making payroll successful for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that 2.1 million federal government employees who get paychecks are counting on this. You have to throw the resources at it.

What is the work you're most proud of at GSA? There are many, many projects to choose from. You've worked on initiatives such as NewPay, category management and strategic sourcing, the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions telecommunications contract, to name just a few.

I don't know if there is a single project I could choose. A couple things, one is I have been honored and thrilled to be a part of so many things going on across government.

We started talking about strategic sourcing back in 2005. It ebbs and flows as administrations come in and priorities change and things like that. Overall, what those things do, like strategic sourcing and category management, is create a dialogue across government and a real interest in opportunities to do things together.

Strategic sourcing was the first play of whether it is possible for government to come together and create common requirements, leverage our buying power and really be a better customer to the industries that are providing these things to us.

I love collaboration and working on things together. Strategic sourcing, category management and now shared services, just being part of things that are government wide to move government forward in a different direction and try to do things more smartly and more efficiently-that's been a tremendous fun.

Coming to ITC and revamping that group looking at categories and at government wide contracts—that group has grown. Seeing the growth and the rest of government wanting to partner with GSA, so we can help them with their mission has been an awesome place to be.

I don't have one answer. I never will

What would you do differently if you had to do it all over? Why?

I honestly wouldn't have done anything differently. I never had a plan for my career. I wouldn't say that's the right answer for anybody. I tell people, if you think you have a plan, you should know that things will change drastically and probably all for the better.

I have always raised my hand and said "sure, I'll do that." That has really served me well and has opened the door for me to do a whole bunch of different things.

I've loved working with the people at GSA, across government, in industry and the associations I've been a part of. I feel that I have been happy with how my career has gone. I've gotten to be challenged and learned along the way. I've gotten to work with a lot of great leaders.

What will you miss the most?

The people and the work. We sit in the middle of government. You deal with every agency and help write legislation and policy. You get to help implement it. You get to influence things. It's the mission. It's corny, but the people here are happy to come to work and happy to be working on different missions and challenges. It's a great place to be a great culture. It's why I've spent 32 years here.

How has the GSA workforce changed over the years? Is it more technically capable?

Really strong acquisition cadre. Really strong and on the technical side, getting into 18F and how we approach customer experience. We're being much more thoughtful about what role we can play and help move government.

Before Clinger-Cohen [the 1996 law that to improve the way the federal government acquires and employs IT], all IT acquisition had to go through GSA and be approved and managed. We've become very innovative and entrepreneurial and really tried to figure out the different ways GSA can support government.

You have to have a very diverse workforce with customer service skills, IT skills, acquisition skills, program management skills, financial management and that's just on the FAS side. The public building service is another job, trying to figure out to better manage that footprint and provide value.

What are your duties going to be at NASA?

In a nutshell, they're working through some organizational transformation and CXO consolidation. Across all the centers, there's IT functions, financial management functions, HR functions. They've been working to consolidate that in a way that makes NASA more efficient, so that they can focus on mission.

They recently launched Artemis [NASA's next manned mission to the moon scheduled by 2024] There's also other big projects going on. They want to be smarter about how they focus their resources. It's, "how do you bring the agency together in a way that focuses resources on mission and how to deliver in a way that support organizations deliver in a way that that gets done?"

I'm coming in to help with that. I think they're about halfway through some of that consolidation. It's time to look at where that's headed and what value it's providing and I can help there.