Dan Tangherlini: A force for continuous change

"It's OK to risk the possibility of blowing up what works," says the GSA administrator, if the payoff warrants it.

Dan Tangherlini

GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini (Photo by Zaid Hamid)

For a smart guy, Dan Tangherlini has made some questionable career moves.

A rising star at the Office of Management and Budget and Department of Transportation in the 1990s, he took a detour into the District of Columbia government -- working with the Metropolitan Police Department and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority before ultimately serving as city administrator under Mayer Adrian Fenty.

In 2009, Tangherlini returned to federal service by taking three jobs in one: the Department of Treasury's assistant secretary for management, chief financial officer and chief performance officer. And then in 2012, he moved to the General Services Administration as acting administrator, tasked with righting an agency that had just lost several senior executives and much of its credibility with Congress thanks to conference spending and other mismanagement.

Tangherlini likes to deflect such questions by saying it's all an attempt to get stories to match those of his brother, who is a firefighter in San Francisco. "What I'm really trying to be, is as cool as my younger brother," he quipped. "But I'm not even close."

Turning serious, however, Tangherlini said it was a "huge honor" to even be considered for such public-service challenges. "I've gone because I've been asked, he said." And maybe it's because other people weren't interested in doing it, but in every one of those opportunities what I found was smart, committed, dedicated public servants who were dying to work on something big and important and meaningful."

That answer -- with its description of the allure of making government better, and the aggressive sharing of credit with agency colleagues -- gets to the essence of the GSA administrator, and the management style that has won over many on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Not everyone is a fan of Tangherlini's tenure at GSA, of course -- perhaps unsurprisingly, given his mandate to rein in spending and reboot some of the agency's management culture. But he has undeniably put his agency on a path of constant and iterative improvement, and given GSA's IT leaders the space and permission they need to experiment.

"It's OK to risk the possibility of blowing up what works," he said, if that's what it takes to ensure that functional systems continue to improve. "If you don't make continuous improvement or investment, the risk gets big. You eventually get to the point where you have to rebuild the thing from scratch."

That doesn't mean change for change's sake, Tangherlini said, arguing that much of GSA's success comes from the "combination of people who bring experience with having tried things before, with people who are really interested in trying new stuff." The key is "valuing everyone's opinions around the table, but having a clear message that we are going to continually improve, and we are going to focus on great outcomes and results." And anyone hoping that GSA might calm down after an initial flurry of change should probably think again. From Tangherlini's perspective, things are just getting going.

Noting that he started at OMB in 1991, right after the Chief Financial Officer Act was passed, Tangerlini said, "You've got to remember, we didn’t even have audited financial statements for federal agencies. I don't think it's a stretch to say that we didn't know what agencies were spending and where their money was."

"I think it's taken every bit of those 20 years for us to actually build the effective management system," he said. "We are close to really having the ... continuous streams of meaningful, important and interesting management data that will allow managers to actually have a sense of how their agencies are performing in real time."

"That initial 20 years was hard and slow," Tangherlini said. "I think the next 20 years are going to be fast and dramatic."

NEXT STORY: A somewhat revealing rubber stamp

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.