GSA’s Tech Teams Increasingly Important to Administration’s Tech Priorities

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18F and the Technology Transformation Services face a more certain future than just two years ago.

Following the 2016 election, the General Services Administration’s core tech teams faced major existential questions.

18F, the tech fix-it team housed within the larger Technology Transformation Service, had been the subject of an audit that found it outspending what it earned.

To boot, many wondered whether an Obama project heavy on young tech talent would get axed by the incoming Trump administration.

Instead, TTS has become the key cog in executing the Trump administration’s most important tech initiative after a reorganization that merged it with GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service.

“In terms of 18F and TTS as organizations, [they’re] stronger than I’ve ever seen [them],” said TTS Acting Director Kelly Olson, speaking Thursday at Fedstival, an event organized by Nextgov’s parent company, Government Executive Media Group.

“Years ago feels like a lifetime ago,” said Olson, who was promoted in August after the departure of Joanne Collins Smee. “We had a completely different organization at that time. I will say that we have corrected everything in the [GAO] report. Our financial controls are on point.”

Demand for TTS’ services has never been higher and keeping up is “probably the biggest challenge,” Olson added. Less than two weeks into fiscal 2019, Olson said TTS is “almost halfway to our goal, which is again demonstrating the value” the organization provides. Olson said she could not disclose TTS’ financial goal.

While TTS is playing a leading role in the Trump administration’s first Centers of Excellence project at the Agriculture Department, it expects to have an even larger part in the second project now underway at the Housing and Urban Development Department. 18F, part of the 275-person workforce Olson now oversees, will engage early with HUD in the first of a two-phase approach focused on at least five areas: customer experience, cloud adoption, infrastructure optimization, contact centers and service delivery analytics.

18F’s new CoE work will add to products, applications and consulting services it has delivered for more than 30 agencies. The group’s work will focus more on coaching and training partner agencies than building things.

Olson said TTS had 20 new people start through the past month, driven largely by CoE projects, and has the capacity to take on another CoE agency every six months. However, Olson said the tech teams are more selective in the work they take on.

“As an organization, we are focused on building on the current momentum while positioning ourselves to scale at a stable pace,” Olson said following her remarks Thursday. “And on the other side of that, we are establishing metrics that show the value of our work as well as the business volume to justify our growth.”

Olson said GSA’s executive leadership—Administrator Emily Murphy and FAS Commissioner Alan Thomas—understand how crucial TTS is as a component for GSA to help agencies build, buy and share tech better. Also of significant import, Olson said TTS’ partnership with the White House is strong.

“Everyone is supportive of the fact that government needs to get better at digital,” Olson said.