GSA as a Change Agent?

The Vision From General Services Administration Martha Johnson

Fresh from her recent swearing-in as General Services Administration (GSA) administrator, Martha Johnson took the time allotted for her second public speech to address last month’s FOSE Show audience and share her vision of the GSA.

GSA’s mission is to support its client agencies so that they can support their core missions. GSA has to seize change so that their customers can fulfill the missions in  today’s world, reports Johnson. GSA is the government’s change agent. But how do we get there?


We get there first with information technologies. With building technologies, and  even with human technologies. Second, we get there by partnering with industry and customers. The notion of change is sensible and sensational. So where is GSA with that?

Johnson has learned that the federal workplace has changed dramatically. Work is what you do, not where you are. Nearly 60 percent of GSA employees were working
remotely from home during the blizzards this winter. Johnson was actually sworn in by phone, standing in her kitchen. Work definitely is what you do, not where you

Another thing that is changing is how our carbon and geographic footprints are merging. The government is now gathering information about carbon usage and greenhouse gases in our buildings and activities.

Not only is the workplace changing, but so is the work itself. Government is having to do much more with much less. This requires a better head for thrift and better value propositions.

Information technologies continue to explode. launched at the end of the Clinton administration. Now the Obama administration is committed to harnessing technologies to open and improve efficiency and effectiveness of government and to simplify and expand citizen access and engagement. GSA has now developed more customer-facing solutions. The workplace is changing, and the work is changing.


GSA has learned to play in the market. Now GSA must decide if it wants to win. Government needs are changing, and industry is evolving. A few scenarios:

>> A mandate change – what if Congress pushes through aggressive cooperative purchasing and decides that GSA schedules should be open to state and local businesses? Imagine that.

>> A second scenario for growth is as simple as a market change. That’s
what’s happening already. Where could that help? Veteran’s administration, health-care information, and more DoD work.

>> The third scenario puts the question just to GSA. GSA could win more business if it stepped up performance with and for others.


Business literature says there are three fundamental ways to improve performance, customer intimacy, innovation and operational excellence.

Customer intimacy, meaning a deep understanding and resonance with customers. The challenge here is open government. Transparency equates to customer intimacy. GSA is the membrane between government and industry, between government and solutions. Technology solutions will help.

  1. Innovation. Customers want cutting-edge solutions. Not the ones that were relevant in the 1990s, or ones that are up to date. That’s not good enough. GSA has a tradition of innovation, but innovation creates risk. This is where GSA — as a consolidated, centralized agency — can really shine by helping industry and customers leverage and manage risk. That’s a solid business proposition.

Thanks to the Obama administration, GSA has the arena to demonstrate innovation. NASA had the moon, and DARPA had the Internet — but GSA has two arenas for innovation: sustainability and open government. Sustainability is a big part of GSA, from historic restoration and preservation to green government. Sustainability is a big initiative going forward, by supporting data center consolidation and greener, more efficient secure IT solutions.

Operational excellence. GSA has to step up to President Obama’s challenge for a better government for the people. This happens through transformation of processes, performance and — most importantly — people. Transformation equals talent.

GSA has three things to ask of its customers and industry partners in order to be successful.
>> Be more clear about your needs and challenges.
>> Don’t hesitate to speak honestly about what GSA can do for you.
>> Ask for ranges of options, ask for solutions, and challenge GSA to be “the big engine that will.”

The future of GSA is clear. The future is winning. GSA will win through innovation, through technology, through shared risk, and through cultural and process transformation.

—The author, LARISSA FAIR, is a reporter covering FOSE 2010. Follow her at:

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