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,, 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.

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