Editorial: A time for openness

It is hardly news that GSA has problems. Those problems are multifaceted and have been building for years.

We don’t usually write about the difficulties we have getting information. As a rule, readers don’t care — and rightfully so. But the case of the General Services Administration is unusual.

It is hardly news that GSA has problems. Those problems are multifaceted and have been building for years. But some people question whether GSA’s leaders understand the scope of the agency’s problems. That doubt is heightened because GSA’s leaders have refused to provide information — primarily financial data — that could alleviate some of those concerns.

GSA officials believe they have a plan to deal with the problems and to put the agency back on a successful path. Fairly or unfairly, many people just don’t trust them. So much smoke surrounds GSA right now that most observers believe the fire is more severe than GSA officials have suggested.

Perception is pitted against reality, and in this case, it is no contest. Perception wins because people don’t have information on which to base their own assessments.

GSA faces a perilous time. Its customers are frustrated, its employees are demoralized or fleeing, and industry is concerned about what the agency’s problems will mean for an already problematic procurement environment.

GSA’s decision not to provide details about its financial health only furthers this perception that the problems are worse than we know.

GSA has never released extensive financial information. But this is an unusual time in the agency’s history. Its officials have argued that the financial numbers are constantly changing. Yet, they are making decisions based on those numbers.

GSA wants to operate like a business, and releasing financial information would be an important step in that transformation. Public companies release quarterly reports on the status of their fiscal health. Yet, GSA, which is a steward of the public’s money, has chosen to say almost nothing.

GSA officials have also said that focusing on the numbers only causes people to look backward rather than forward.

On the contrary, we don’t believe GSA can begin moving ahead until officials make a full accounting of the breadth and scope of the issues.

Opening the financial books is the only effective way to deal with the rumors and concerns. We have offered GSA officials various ways to tell their story in their own words. We repeat those offers.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.

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