TOPIC: General Services Administration

GSA announces first “Chief Greening Officer”

Poaching from the private sector, the General Services Administration has named its first “Chief Greening Officer” to aggressively pursue “innovative sustainable practices within GSA’s large portfolio of government-owned and leased buildings.” Eleni Reed has moved over from real estate giant Cushman and Wakefield to lead the GSA in “greening” the nearly ten thousand government-owned or -leased buildings in its portfolio.

It’s a positive step, and a move toward (more…)

Will Bureaucrats Rebel Against the U.S. Senate?

Kit Bond

Kit Bond

This is not the worst example of the U.S. Senate v. good government during the Obama administration, but it typifies the situation: The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe blogs that Danielle German, the chief of staff at the General Services Administration — a/k/a the “government’s landlord” for its property management — has quit in frustration. Why? Because the U.S. Senate has still not confirmed Martha Johnson, Barack Obama’s nomination way back in May to head GSA. Johnson is still not confirmed, because — you know it -Missouri Sen. Kit Bond has a hold on Johnson. Johnson’s hold is on behalf of the noble national interest of getting more information about new a federal building in Kansas City.

Joseph Lieberman famously made the health care reform bill worse in an attention-seeking fit. But the whimsy of Lieberman’s health care demands was not the actions of one egomaniac. It’s standard-issue behavior in the upper chamber. Kit Bond can hold up a multi-billion dollar agency with thousands of employees, because he wants assurances about, essentially, an earmark to Missouri. South Carolina’s Jim DeMint can stifle airport security, a kind of big deal these days, because he wants to needle unions. Wyoming’s Mike Enzi can prevent the Labor Dept. from enforcing its most basic minimum wage and overtime laws, because…well, it’s not clear why Enzi is doing this.

What’s frustrating is how little Senators called on the carpet for this, either by their colleagues or Obama administration officials. In the case of these holds, comity seems to take precedence over governance. Perhaps, though, we’ve found a way to dramatize the problem — other top-level bureaucrats who will join German and quit in protest.


Elizabeth Newell of Government Executive looks at the uphill battle the General Services Administration and other federal agencies must fight in efficiently completing the stimulus bill’s $131 billion in construction projects:

The catch here, as with many areas of government, is management. Adopting new technologies and effectively overseeing construction projects, says Heller, requires government personnel to understand the "odd" construction industry culture. The industry consists of predominantly small businesses. Large infrastructure programs bring together hundreds of these companies in temporary arrangements.

"It’s a project-based industry with no central management," [Barbara] Helle, [president and CEO of the Washington firm Design and Construction Strategies] says. "Groups of companies come together to do a project — they may never work together again — and then they go their own ways. The idea of applying management protocols or accountability across the whole process, that’s not in anybody’s job description."

What this "odd construction industry culture" means is that there are few "shovel ready projects" where federal agencies can accurately estimate the costs. The Obama administration needs to make a choice — whether to quickly push forward with construction projects and risk wasteful spending, or hold the construction industry to providing fixed costs before the project starts. Since the whole point of the bill is to quickly stimulate the economy, this might not be the best venue to reform the construction industry.-MB


The government may soon get a new landlord. Tom Shoop of Government Executive reports that Barack Obama has nominated Martha Johnson to head the General Services Administration, which controls federal property and handles the logistics of government contracting. Johnson was GSA Chief of Staff in the Bill Clinton administration and is current vice president of culture (yes, of culture) at Computer Sciences Corp.

At the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, Scott Amey blogs that Computers Sciences Corp. "was a top 20 federal contractor with numerous GSA contracts and a few instances of misconduct." Amey writes the Johnson nomination "just goes to show that the revolving door is still spinning fast, and that the government’s reliance (or overreliance) on contractors isn’t going away anytime soon."

It will be hard, though, for Johnson to do a worse job than Bush administration GSA head Lurita Doan, who illegally politicized her office, awarded no-bid contracts to friends, and compared GSA Inspector General Brian Miller with a terrorist. GSA employees will probably be happy with any leader who lets them go about doing their job.-MB


On the 7th year anniversary of 9/11, GSA, the federal agency that manages government contracts, is protesting federal building codes meant to deal with a terrorist attack. The New York Times’ Eric Lipton reports that GSA thinks the cost of building a third stairwell in skyscrapers, or fireproofing that can withstand 1,000 pounds per square foot of force, is not the most effective use of money. They side with real estate developers who say installing these safety measures costs $13 million for a 42-story building.

I’m not sure I side with GSA and the real estate lobby. But it’s a legit discussion to have. The country needs many, many infrastructure improvements. Maybe redesigning a skyscraper to protect it from radical jihad shouldn’t be the top priority.-MB


The New York Times’ Charlie Savage has a nice follow-up story on the damning Justice Dept. Inspector General report released Monday on politicized hiring practices. Savage leads with a 2005 email sent by the White House’s office of political affairs to executive branch agencies that identified GOP loyalists the agencies ought to hire.

Indeed, hiring career civil servants at the Justice Dept. was not a problem caused by former Justice White House liaison Monica Goodling or even Alberto Gonzales. It’s been endemic of the Bush administration- from "political briefings" by Karl Rove’s office to the General Services Administration to former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson bragging about only handing out HUD contracts to Bush loyalists.

But hasn’t this kind of thing happened in past administrations? Savage reports out that the White House’s concerted, systemic effort to make the bureaucracy GOP-friendly is perhaps unprecedented.-MB


11 months after being found in violation of the Federal Hatch Act, Lurita Doan’s reign as Administrator of the General Services Administration ended last night when the White House forced her to resign. “I would rather get fired for something I believe in and a cause I was willing to fight for, rather than to believe in nothing worth being fired for,” Doan said to Government Executive’s Dan Freidman and Robert Brosky.

It’s not clear what Doan was referring to, though she has waged a near-constant personnel battle with the GSA’s inspector general’s office. The independent office of special counsel determined last May that Doan doesn’t believe in the Hatch Act, which protects government employees from having to participate in the party politics espoused by their bosses.  At a luncheon with White House GOP political operative Scott Jennings, Doan asked her employees, “How can we help our candidates?”

That such a move didn’t get Doan fired sooner is one of the great mysteries of the Bush administration. That the White House finally decided to take such action now is another mystery. Read Freidman and Brosky here.  MB

Is GSA Losing Its Touch As Primary Procurer?

A tale is told of a once great supplier of federal goods and services, which may no longer be as great as it was.


Is this the story behind the story told by Daniel Pulliam of


It seems as though GSA may be losing its touch in attracting federal agencies to employ its services to provide them with same.


I recall many years ago that GSA was the only game in town.  Federal agencies had to obtain goods and services (office space, equipment, computers, etc.) through GSA.  Now, other means for procuring these commodities are available.  GSA no longer possesses monopoly like stature.


Why is GSA seeing this decline?  Any ideas?


Discord at GSA?

This story about the Head of GSA, Lurita Doan, and her Inspector General (IG) has legs as long as a giraffe’s.


What’s going on over there?


Not to dismiss the importance of objective, incisive program reviews, for which IGs are famous, why is there so much scuttlebutt?  Is this merely bureaucratic inside baseball at its best?


I invite anyone who’s familiar with the details to enlighten our readers.  At one level this has all the trappings of a classical scorned employee or personality clash.  Or, is there a legitimate, serious and enduring level of malfeasance?  And, if it is the latter, what can be done?  The cost of impeding efficient operations and alienating a large workforce is incalculable.

Fred Apelquist, contributing editor


Will New Legislation Make GSA Part of the Procurement Solution?

Any day now President Bush could sign legislation directing GSA to reorganize its massive procurement engine.  It is thought – and hoped – to be the medicine needed to transform a problem agency into an effective operating entity.

Many articles have been written about this in as well as an article in The Washington Post by Stephen Barr 

For a host of reasons, many federal agencies decided to shop elsewhere rather than through GSA to acquire needed supplies, computers, etc.  This was bad news for GSA, as it funds its operations through fees assessed agencies for acquisition services. 

In theory, GSA, through consolidated buying power, economies of scale, and expertise in the field, could procure needed goods and services for fellow federal agencies more effectively and cheaply than those agencies could on their own.   This seemed reasonable.  If I’m heading a large government organization, I’d prefer to use an existing inexpensive option rather than develop and train a staff of my own to do the same work.  In practice, however, GSA apparently couldn’t deliver these goods and services in a way that satisfied agencies.

There’s much to read in the above referenced articles.  Once you’ve digested them, tell us what you think.  Will this reorganization fix the existing problem?  Have the Executive and Legislative branches gone about addressing this issue properly?  Billions of dollars are at stake.  Can billions be saved and can federal agencies get the goods and services they need promptly, correctly, and cost effectively?