Doan confirmed as GSA head

But will she have time to fix the agency’s ills?

The Senate confirmed Lurita Doan on May 26 as administrator of the General Services Administration. Federal procurement observers say they like her ideas, but some wonder if she has enough time to make significant changes.

During her May 22 confirmation hearing, she told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that she would hold more face-to-face meetings with customers and build quantifiable measures of improvement to move the agency beyond its troubles.

President Bush nominated Doan on April 6, and she becomes GSA’s first woman administrator since the agency’s creation in 1949. Bush must sign her appointment papers before she can be sworn in.

Several experts and GSA observers say Doan’s statements on business recovery are on target. But they point out that she has no more than 30 months before the Bush administration leaves office, which is scant time to address the major challenges facing GSA.

“Time is not on her side,” said Neal Fox, a former GSA official who is now an independent consultant. “Her testimony shows that she understands the problem at the 30,000-foot level, but the devil will be in the details.”

Doan has spent the past several years turning her own start-up company, New Technology Management, into a multimillion-dollar technology business. She sold her stake in the firm in 2005.

“As an entrepreneur, I am familiar with the challenges that GSA is currently facing,” she wrote on the committee’s standard background questionnaire. “The next administrator must have a proven track record in facing and overcoming the same obstacles.”

During the hearing, Doan said GSA must improve its customer focus, make timely and conclusive decisions, and create a culture of change to meet and adapt to customers’ needs.

Doan said she recognizes that many of GSA’s biggest customers are dissatisfied. They are unhappy with procurement practices, and the timeliness and delivery of GSA’s services, she said.

Many of them have already taken their business elsewhere. Doan promised to go to those customers in an effort to understand their concerns and find ways to address them.

“I’m sure a good deal of groveling will be involved, and I am willing to do that,” she said.

She added that she would establish quantifiable performance metrics to measure how well GSA performs services, including the time it takes to issue contracts, associated costs and level of compliance with regulations.

Federal procurement experts had mixed reactions to Doan’s plans.

Despite such concerns, some management experts said Doan could have an effect extending well beyond January 2009. Carl DeMaio, president of the Performance Institute, said Doan could force GSA and its leaders to recognize problems that they are denying. The agency must adapt to a continually changing marketplace, despite a culture of ignoring such realities, DeMaio said.

“She can be the splash of cold water in the face of the GSA’s culture,” he said.

Advice for Doan

Here is a sampling of advice from industry leaders for the General Services Administration’s new administrator, Lurita Doan.

“Speeding the contract award process for a GSA schedule is a good goal, generally doable because almost any process can be improved. But I think she will have to also work on improving the rest of GSA’s acquisition processes as well.”

Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources

“GSA’s issues and shortcomings are tied to the loss of multiyear funding changes and the loss of responsive and timely contracting. These two features constituted their competitive advantage and value proposition. Until those features are restored and enhanced, GSA will continue to lose business and momentum.”

Bob Woods, president of Topside Consulting Group

“GSA has a lot to do to re-establish the trust of government customers that it is a sensible vehicle for getting business done. GSA needs to demonstrate both that it can act promptly on behalf of government customers but also help customers get good prices and good service from vendors.”

Steve Kelman, Harvard University professor and Federal Computer Week columnist

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