GSA chief seeks to expand shared services

As shared services gain a stronger hold as the go-to philosophy within the government, agencies are exploring how to push sharing into a new dimension.

Martha Johnson, administrator at the General Services Administration, said she was “floored” by a Washington Post article that highlighted a growing trend of sharing in the wider world. People are sharing things such as bikes, toys and moving boxes. Seemingly anything that a person can buy can be shared with others, she said..

“There’s a whole new trend in society about sharing,” Johnson said. “We now share cars, we share evening dresses, we share vacation homes and apparently, we share ties – organically cleaned but we do share them.”

Johnson was delivering opening remarks at the Acquisition Excellence conference in Washington, D.C. The event was hosted jointly by GSA and the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council on March 29.

The government has joined in to this emerging mentality, and is applying to its assets, she said, creating a movement “turbocharged” by social media. In late 2011, U.S. CIO Steven VanRoekel, in unveiling the “Shared First” strategy, said the goal was to expand on existing investments “rather than reinventing the wheel.”

Johnson said one of her agency’s major priorities is to develop a shared service approach to customer-agency needs, including bulk buying and avoiding redundant capabilities across the government.

“The government can find so much more capability if can pool its purchasing powers to drive down costs and improve results,” she said.

“But we need to face – and face down – the barriers to adopt this more sharing culture,” Johnson emphasized. “We need to get it out in the open, and be honest with each other about the opportunities and the risks of moving in this direction. And more importantly: We need to know how to do it better.”

The sharing approach challenges the deep-rooted perception of a siloed government and where budgets are allocated. Johnson said tackling and changing the fundamental structures would open up many new opportunities for the government.

Under the federal IT umbrella, mobility and virtual services have arisen as areas agencies invest in to meet the increasingly demanding needs of citizens who expects a more interactive and responsive government. To make that happen, the government has to become more mobile, Johnson said, adding that GSA has already several tools on app.gov to help agencies,

But three major challenges remain to taking sharing wide: Device management, legacy systems modernization and security, Johnson said.

“Those things are rocks in the river as we move forward,” she said.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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