Stories from the Georgia State community in the time of coronavirus.
J. Alexander Atwood (B.S. '76)
Commissioner, Georgia Department of Administrative Services
With a lengthy resume that includes service in local and federal law enforcement, three terms in the Georgia House of Representatives, and service as a Marine officer and a judge, J. Alexander Atwood is leading a state agency with a crucial role in Georgia’s COVID-19 response.
THERE HAVEN’T BEEN MANY CALM WEEKENDS since the pandemic began, but it’s part of doing business, and we are committed to opening all stops in our effort to make a difference.
At the Georgia Department of Administrative Services, our main focus is on generating efficiency through our work helping other agencies and state entities maximize their opportunities to improve performance. We offer services in five business units — risk management, state purchasing, fleet management, surplus property and human resources — in a consultative environment to help identify issues and develop solutions. That’s our mission, and that work hasn’t changed in these challenging times.
In fact, we’ve been fully engaged in work that supports Gov. Brian Kemp’s efforts, and we’re continuing to partner with agencies, particularly the Department of Public Health, the Department of Economic Development, the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency and others to help them achieve the best outcomes possible in their response to the pandemic.
I’ve got some great folks working with me at DOAS, and they’re relying on their procurement networks and their experience in trying to assist other agencies during this pandemic. For example, in addition to all the great sourcing already done by GEMA, we helped GEMA with identifying additional sourcing of over 4 million isolation gowns, 100,000 Tyvek coveralls, 3 million N95 face masks, 55.8 million gloves and 1 million medical-surgical face masks.
Likewise, the Georgia Technology Authority reached out for help in locating surplus laptops due to the conversion to teleworking. We were able to get with a small business partner and locate refurbished laptops so GTA could loan those to the requesting agencies.
One of the things we’ve had to adjust to in our agency during the pandemic is converting to telework. We put together our operations plan early, and in just a matter of days almost 100 percent of our folks were able to telework. We’ve had a lot of additional tasking as a result of COVID-19, but even while teleworking we’ve kept our normal work up. It’s a new normal that is working well.
In other work related to procurement, we conduct training across the state with our suppliers and others, and we’ve also found that our virtual classrooms are working. We always plan for business continuity, but with teleworking we have gained additional efficiencies. I’m feeling positive about the way we’ve been able to serve our client base, stay in touch and do what we need to do for the taxpayers.
People have sometimes said, “Well, you’ve been closed for business during the pandemic.” I quickly respond, “No, we have not.” In fact, we have ramped it up. We have a duty to the taxpayers of this state. That is a commitment everyone in DOAS takes very, very seriously.
This was something that hit us fairly quickly. Everyday citizens generally don’t see what goes on behind the scenes, but I can tell you, the governor and his team have been working 24/7. Likewise, in DOAS we have been especially busy, particularly involving human resource issues and contracting initiatives. That is our duty. We are proud to be able to help. All of us are in this fight together.
Since being appointed by Gov. Kemp in March 2019 and returning to Atlanta, I have also enjoyed indulging the quest of being a student again by taking an occasional class at night in the Georgia State College of Law. I have a soft spot in my heart for Georgia State, and it is good to be back, even as the world’s oldest collegiate student.
I took legislative law this last semester with Professor Neil Kinkopf — essentially an analysis of statutory law. I found it fascinating, especially having been a member of the Georgia Legislature. Professor Kinkopf is a true expert in his field. If possible, I would encourage students to take a class with him.
Early in my career, while working my way through Georgia State at night, I served as a detective with the Atlanta Police Department assigned to the Intelligence Division. Part of my duties involved executive protection details, including liaising with the U.S. Secret Service on protection details for then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. During those early years, during the birthday celebrations for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I was also assigned to protect Martin Luther King Sr. It was an assignment I particularly enjoyed. Before joining the police force, I had gone to hear Dr. King Sr. speak at West Georgia College and was honored to later be assigned to him. He was a great orator in his own right and a great man.
Upon graduating from Georgia State, I served as a special agent and supervisory special agent in four federal executive branch agencies, serving throughout the United States and overseas. As chief of legal training for the Department of Homeland Security at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, I led all legal training for over 90 federal agencies.
After I retired from federal service, I was one of the founding partners of the business litigation law firm Atwood Choate, P.C., and later served for two years as a judge. These were great jobs, but I missed more extensive leadership opportunities.
Having spent an awful lot of time working within the executive branch of the federal government, as an executive in private industry and serving as a Marine officer, I’ve always enjoyed leadership, working with people and policy formation. So, when I had a chance to come join state government on the executive branch level, I did it more as a labor of love than anything else. There is honor in public service — our founders realized that — and it is my belief that, if possible, citizens and particularly attorneys should dedicate a portion of their lives to public service. It is truly rewarding.
I haven’t been disappointed, either. When I walked into DOAS, I found a truly outstanding group of folks. They’re very talented people and very dedicated.
I guess what I would want anyone to know, apart from the good work I’ve seen from the governor and his team, is the work the employees are doing. They haven’t missed a beat, and in fact they’ve picked up an awful lot of other added responsibilities. I’ve witnessed it. I’ll tell you like I told them when we did an all-staff meeting: I have never seen a better group of people than I’ve seen inside DOAS. I’d love for the public to be able to see what I’ve seen. I love my job and am honored to have an opportunity to serve.