June 30, 2004
NASA Assistant Administrator, Local Son, Does Well
Image left: Ralph C. Thomas III, Assistant Administrator for Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.
Growing up, Ralph C. Thomas III always wanted to be a journalist and a writer. Little did he realize or plan he'd one-day work for NASA and be admitted to the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.
On June 1, 2004, Thomas was sworn in at the courtroom of the Supreme Court. Eight of the nine justices were present, including Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who granted the motion requesting Thomas' admission to the Bar. As a member of the Supreme Court Bar, Thomas can argue cases before the high court.
"I did not plan to be a lawyer or work for NASA, but here I am. And, to have just been admitted to practice before the Supreme Court, why, I'm elated to be a member of the Bar of the highest court in the land," Thomas said.
Thomas joined NASA in 1992 as Assistant Administrator for the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU). OSDBU is responsible for the development and management of NASA programs to assist small businesses. Its mission is to ensure that small, small disadvantaged, and women-owned small businesses, as well as historically black colleges and universities and other minority institutions, are provided the most opportunities possible to participate in NASA prime contracts and subcontracts, particularly in the high tech areas. This includes technology transfer and commercialization activities.
Under Thomas' leadership, during fiscal years 1992-2002, NASA's total dollars to small businesses increased from $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion. The total prime and subcontract award dollars to minority small disadvantaged businesses almost tripled from $615 million to $1.7 billion, the highest amount in NASA's history. Additionally, the total prime and subcontract award dollars to women-owned businesses more than tripled from $219 million to $743 million, also the highest amount in NASA's history.
Thomas is local to NASA Headquarters in Washington; he grew up in Frederick, Md., and graduated from Frederick High School. After high school he joined the U.S. Air Force.
Thomas completed his Air Force commitment, then attended Maunaolu College on Maui, Hawaii, where he received an Associate of Arts Degree. Thomas then attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he graduated with honors and went on to Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Mass.
Thomas was a practicing attorney before joining the government. Since coming to NASA, he has continued to be active in the legal field. He has written legal articles for several publications including Federal Contracts Report, Federal Lawyer and The Government Contractor.
Thomas has also been chairman of the Federal Bar Association's Government Contracts Section, as well as that section's Committee on Small Business and Socioeconomic Matters. At NASA he routinely gives seminars to small businesses on the legal aspects of entering into teaming agreements and federal subcontracts with large businesses.
While at NASA, Thomas has developed an interest in race-walking. In December 2002, he completed a race-walking marathon in Jamaica for the American Stroke Association in honor of his administrative assistant, Jackie Benjamin, who died of a stroke the previous year.
Unfortunately, Thomas developed anterior compartment syndrome, a rare condition that requires immediate leg surgery to allow "suffocating" calf muscles to "breathe." He was in three hospitals over a two-month period and had eight surgeries. He was told he would probably never walk again without some form of assistance. He beat those odds, first using a wheel chair, then a walker, then heavy braces to light braces; now he is walking on his own.
During the past year, he not only has made an impressive comeback physically, but professionally as well. His small business program was voted one of the top three in the federal government by diversity business owners. Asian Enterprise Magazine named him Minority Business Entrepreneur Advocate of the Year. And OSDBU won the competitive Diversity Innovator Award from the National Women's Business Center for developing innovative approaches in providing contracting opportunities for women business owners.
"I consider myself very blessed. Through the hard times and the good times, I've had a great deal of support from my family, and, as important, from my staff and the whole NASA family. The supportive atmosphere NASA provides to its employees has allowed me to make a number of soft landings," said Thomas.
For more information about OSDBU on the Internet, visit:
For information about NASA and agency programs on the Internet, visit:
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