Soloway: Challenges are opportunities

The resignation of an agency head always produces its share of drama. But those departures, regardless of the circumstances, are common and generally less important than the agency’s overall condition and the leadership that remains.

In the case of Lurita Doan’s departure from the General Services Administration, the agency remains under the microscope and faces an array of external problems. At the same time, GSA has moved forward under Doan. The agency has improved its management and financial controls, received a clean audit opinion — one of few agencies to do so — and been named by employees as one of the best places to work in government.

Moreover, GSA has some of the federal government’s top senior career leaders, including the highly regarded David Bibb, deputy administrator, and Jim Williams, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service. Say what you will about Doan’s style or her choice of battles, the truth is GSA is better off today than when she arrived 22 months ago. There is reason for optimism in the near term and through the presidential transition.

That said, GSA has four immediate priorities:

1. Get back to the customer. GSA’s customer relations are the core of its business, yet those relationships have become strained in too many important areas. Given the credibility of the agency’s remaining leaders, GSA has an opportunity to reassert its value and critical role in federal contracting. However, the growing practice of agencies awarding their own contracts has had a palpable effect on GSA’s market share, and some of that business will not be returning.

That trend presents challenges, but it also offers opportunities. GSA’s first step must be to rebuild customer relations at the highest levels and, where necessary, continue to adapt its business model to meet the realities of the marketplace.

2. Get back to Congress. GSA’s congressional relations are not what they need to be. Others can argue about why, but that is less important than moving quickly to restore those relations. GSA has a good story to tell and great people in positions to tell it. They need to be turned loose to do so.

3. Get back to basics. No organization can function at an optimal level unless its parts are aligned and functioning well together. There are signs that those alignments at GSA are shaky, at best. The last thing GSA needs is internal divisions that imperil its ability to move forward.

In addition, too many disparate business practices and policies remain across GSA’s components. That, too, must change.

4. GSA must be unafraid to show some backbone. The agency must be willing to assert itself when circumstances dictate. It would be an enormous mistake for the agency and its leaders to take Doan’s departure as a signal to keep their heads down and sit it out. GSA cannot afford to do that. Now is the time for the agency to remain focused, visible and engaged. Simply treading water won’t suffice. 

Soloway is president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council.

About the Author

Stan Soloway is a former deputy undersecretary of Defense and former president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council. He is now the CEO of Celero Strategies.

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