Martha Johnson may bring old era back to GSA

Martha Johnson, the nominee for the top job at the General Services Administration, could bring back an old era of good times at GSA that many inside and outside the agency are already bubbling about, several experts said today.

Johnson, who was chief of staff for then-GSA administrator David Barram from 1997 to 2001, is someone agency employees consider to be one of their own, those experts said.

“She knows GSA inside and out, and she knows almost all of the people there,” said Dennis Fischer, who was GSA’s Federal Technology Service (FTS) commissioner 1997 to 2001.

He has received e-mail messages from numerous agency employees who are excited by the news that President Barack Obama picked Johnson as his nominee to lead GSA, said Fischer, who’s now a consultant.

“I think the place is probably electric,” he said.

The White House made its announcement about Johnson's nomination late April 3, and the e-mail messages quickly began arriving in Fischer’s inbox, he said. Bob Woods, former FTS commissioner at GSA from 1994 to 1997 and now president of Topside Consulting, said a large number of retired GSA officials expressed interest in returning to the agency because Johnson could be back. “That says a lot,” he said.

Unlike recent administrators, Johnson has experience inside GSA, which would give her an advantage in improving an agency that has suffered through contracting crises, lost business as customer agencies do their own contracting work, and leaders who lacked a deep understanding of the agency.

“GSA can’t be another place for someone to learn,” Woods said. Johnson's "disposition is great, but it’s her experience that is what’s needed.”

Johnson served as co-lead for the Obama Presidential Transition Agency Review Team for GSA. That work gave her a close look into what had been happening at the agency during the previous administration, several experts said, adding that the information would serve her well.

Johnson has been vice president of culture at Computer Sciences Corp. since 2007. As vice president, she helps direct the change in culture of the 90,000-person corporation.

GSA's Public Building Service (PBS) is likely to grab Johnson's attention as stimulus money pours into making federal buildings more energy efficient, said Larry Allen, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

“The congressional and public interest is high in how Public Building Service funds are dispersed,” he said.

Fischer and Woods said GSA's Federal Acquisition Service won't be forgotten. They said PBS has longtime officials who know how the organization operates, which will free Johnson to boost FAS’ reputation. Woods said that when GSA formed FAS by merging the Federal Supply Service and FTS, it lost two brand names that were central purchasing organizations. GSA must continue to rebuild its name, he said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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