Senators press on reform at Tangherlini's confirmation hearing

Dan Tangherlini at confirmation hearing

Acting GSA Admnistrator Dan Tangherlini is sworn in at his confirmation hearin on June 18. (Photo by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee)

Some senators on the committee that will decide whether acting General Services Administration Administrator Dan Tangherlini becomes its permanent leader are still a bit skittish about the agency, more than a year after the Inspector General report that brought him to the job in the first place. That IG report detailed the spending at a 2010 conference held in Las Vegas. Administrator Martha Johnson resigned and Tangherlini stepped in.

During his first 14 months at the helm, Tangherlini has imposed reforms on GSA salaries, acquisition practices and spending. Although he faced mostly friendly questions from the bipartisan panel at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on June 18, some senators said still more improvement is needed and expected.

Tangherlini said he began in a tough spot. His agency's last administrator, Martha Johnson, resigned in 2012 in the wake of lavish spending on hotel, travel, and personnel bonuses. To complicate things, a GSA inspector general's report earlier this month cited GSA managers having undue influence on lower-level contracting employees after vendors complained about treatment by the contracting officers. The report came up repeatedly in the senate panel's questioning, with senators asking if the culture at the agency has truly changed.

"Eight years ago we held a hearing on GSA reform," said committee ranking member Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said. "Nothing's happened since then."

Coburn pressed Tangherlini to improve. "There shouldn't be an instance where we don't get the best price," said Coburn. "The problems are still there. I hope you will take charge." Coburn also asked for a meeting with Tangherlini to discuss some of the issues, and promised to provide a list of questions for the administrator-in-waiting to answer.

Committee chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) praised Tangherlini's work and his appointment, but did take the agency to task for certain leasing and acquisition policies.

"I've been appointed at a challenging time," Tangherlini responded. "I'm proud of the work we've done since April of 2012."

In a familiar response to questions about the past scandal, Tangherlini said "some of the angriest people I've seen on this are GSA people."

"We want to gain a sense of accomplishment from driving prices down and increasing efficiencies," he said. The kind of self-esteem driven by lavish conferences and undeserved bonuses, he said, isn't the kind his agency needs.

Tangherlini told the committee that during the past fiscal year, GSA has reduced spending on travel, IT devices and printing by 43 percent compared to fFiscal 2010. In travel alone, the agency saved $28 million dollars by revising internal travel and conference policies.

The agency, he said, has also cut employee bonuses to the bone, reducing them by 64 percent agencywide, and eliminating them all together in the administrator's office. The agency is also in the middle of consolidating key administrative service functions to save a projected $200 million over the next 10 years. GSA's improving reputation took another hit with this month's IG report, however. Coburn and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) asked about the report's details, its meaning and how the agency has responded to the charges made against individual managers and as a whole.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said the senior managers who circumvented contracting officers on contracts deserved to be made examples.

Tangherlini said the agency has already taken personnel action against one upper-level manager cited in the report, while investigating what to do about the others. He has also sent the memo out to GSA personnel and urged contracting officers to notify the IG if they see something in the acquisition process that makes them uncomfortable.

Tangherlini later told reporters that he believed the IG's memo, which had harsh words for the senior managers, should not put discourage either GSA personnel or vendors from communicating with one another about contracts. GSA contracting personnel should not be afraid of raising the alarm at the IG if they see something improper by their managers, he said, while vendors could turn to the agency's chief acquisition office as a resource. He demurred on the establishment of an independent procurement ombudsman, however, saying the process should stay within its current framework.

To drive prices down and provide agencies with more uniform prices, Tangherlini told senators his agency aims to roll out five strategic sourcing initiatives this year. The first, the uniformly-priced buckets of wireless service minutes and devices, is the first in a series, he said. Another one, packaging janitorial and strategic supplies, will follow.

Additionally, Tangherlini told McCaskill his agency was working on a uniform pricing portal for government agencies.

The committee will vote on Tangherlini's nomination on June 24.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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