Balutis: Finding a new administrator

The General Services Administration is one of the major administrative management arms of the government. It provides services, supplies, solutions and policies not only for information technology and acquisition but also for building and office space management, motor vehicles and fleets, personal property, telework, and green initiatives, among other things. It manages access to the government’s Web portal, USA.gov, in addition to print publications mailed from Pueblo, Colo., and telephone assistance through the National Contact Center at 1-800-FedInfo. When we talk about the so-called business of government, GSA is at the heart of finding newer, smarter and cheaper ways to deliver services to people and government itself.

And now — again — the position of GSA administrator is vacant, or, more accurately, filled on an acting basis by a very capable career executive, David Bibb. And with the impending election and transition, that likely will continue to be the case until a new president takes office in January.
GSA’s important role in managing key aspects of the inauguration and transition process argues for career leadership during this important period.

And what should the new administration do? It’s tempting to paraphrase the comedian Mort Sahl and ask, “Should they fill the position of GSA administrator or leave the job vacant for another eight years?”
Let’s assume the answer is to fill the position. How should a new president go about filling what should be a very important job in an administration that will be about change?

All the political positions open in government are listed in a publication usually called “The Plum Book” — both from the color of the cover of the hard copy and the contents — that lists the desirable, so-called plum openings.

A few years ago, the Council for Excellence in Government started publishing a companion volume called “The Prune Book” that listed positions that needed to be filled by people with specific backgrounds or experience. A prune is apparently a plum with experience. The position of GSA administrator ought to be on the prune list — it shouldn’t be available to just anyone who has served loyally or contributed heavily to the campaign.

In his recent exit interview with Federal Computer Week, retiring Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) noted characteristics the White House personnel office should look for to fill this job.


  • An independent or bipartisan figure — not a partisan. Someone who can work with both parties.

  • Management experience.

  • Someone who understands government and how it works.

  • Someone who can bring government together with the private sector.

  • Someone who — while believing in government — can change the way it works.


In the same interview, Davis said, “If a president calls, you always listen.” Can we hope for such a call regardless of which party takes the White House?

Balutis is director and distinguished fellow at Cisco Systems’ Internet Business Solutions Group.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above