The reinvention of GSA

The General Services Administration has much to celebrate as it marks its 50th anniversary this month. The agency's recent decision to close its last eight office supply and distribution centers in favor of purchasing over the Internet reminds us that, perhaps more so than any other agency, GSA has truly reinvented itself to meet the new demands of government in the 21st century.

Once charged with centralized procurement, management and oversight of computer purchases across government, GSA has shaken off its bureaucratic and sometimes overblown cloak and emerged as a leaner, more focused, customer-centric organization catering to the needs of federal agencies. It also is meeting the needs of the taxpaying public by demanding lower prices for equipment and services. In short, the agency's mission didn't change, but the rest of the world did, and GSA was forced to adapt.

But change has not come easily. The low point for the agency must have been 1982, when then President Reagan cut the agency nearly in half. Morale again took a turn for the worse in the early 1990s when GSA Administrator Roger Johnson's reinvention program took on a decided slash-and-burn approach. Those circumstances, combined with competing plans alternately calling for the restructuring or elimination of the agency, and the ongoing loss of institutional knowledge through downsizing, caused us to declare in these columns only five years ago that the future of GSA "is at best uncertain."

Our hat is off to GSA employees who, spurred on by innovative leaders, have set the course for the GSA of the future. GSA Administrator Dave Barram is fond of reminding us: "This is not your father's GSA."

Amen.

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