Success in turning around a federal IT program leads to a career in private industry
By Vanessa Small,
I spent more than 32 years in the federal government. The leadership skills I developed in the public sector did me well in addressing challenges in the small business environment.
Growing up, I had no clue my career would take this course. The thing that impassioned me was music. It continues to be one of my favorite pastimes, especially jazz.
It was a discovery I made during my freshman year of college. I already had a strong interest in music, but suddenly I was surrounded by people from all over the country who had deeper and richer exposure than I had.
I got my radio operator’s license and became an R&B disc jockey and eventually hosted my own jazz show, which was widely listened to.
As I honed my passion for music, I developed a second interest in urban planning. I found I wanted to address what government and industry people could do to improve the quality of life. The initial spark that got me oriented toward a career in public service was an internship for the Michigan state government.
I saw how we impacted the early lives of kids through school lunch programs and other things that provided guidance when children needed it the most.
I pursued public administration for my graduate studies and that really focused me in the direction of federal service. Then I heard about an internship in Washington to work for the federal government. I applied along with 7,000 other applicants and was accepted as one of the first 250 interns.
That’s what really got my federal career launched in a very special way.
I served in various federal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, which is where I knew I belonged. I saw the dedication and intensity of the people doing the work to improve the aviation safety mission.
Our focus was on modernizing the national air space systems, radar improvements and transitioning to digital air-to-ground communications and using satellite and other IT technologies to modernize the equipment that is used for air traffic control.
My role there was the senior chair of the counsel that made acquisition decisions.
We had great successes, including being released from the Government Accountability Office’s list of [programs at high risk of complications].
I was a member of the senior steering committee responsible for putting together the plan for accomplishing that outcome.
That was a crowning achievement. It felt like the right time to retire from federal service.
Upon retiring in 2011, I discovered that there is indeed life after the FAA.
I’ve had two experiences working in the small business environment and I’m now looking forward to B3 Solutions.
I bring perspectives to the small business world that benefit our focus on customer interests. I understand the quality they expect on the federal government side when they receive services and support that is required.
— Interview with Vanessa Small
James H. Washington Position: Chief operating officer of B3 Solutions, an Alexandria government contractor that provides IT services. Career highlights: Executive operations adviser, B3 Solutions; chief operations officer, Brandon Technologies Consultants; chief acquisition officer, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Transportation. Age: 57 Education: BA, urban planning, Dartmouth College; MS, public administration, Syracuse University. Personal: Lives in Germantown with wife, Jane C. Smith. They have four children.