Mary Davie: Exit interview
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.”