GSA chief says citizen services will be a focal point in FY2019

GSA administrator Emily Murphy testifies before a House panel on Feb 15 2018 

GSA Administrator Emily Murphy at a congressional hearing in Feburary.

Citizen-facing services, IT modernization investments and workforce development are all important budget priories for the General Services Administration, agency chief Emily Murphy said at an April 17 House appropriations hearing.  And while lawmakers pressed on some of GSA's politically charged real-estate decisions, they praised Murphy's leadership and struck a generally positive tone on the agency's fiscal year 2019 funding.

Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), implied that GSA should get more for the governmentwide Technology Modernization Fund than the agency has requested, asking Murphy if $210 million is sufficient for fiscal year 2019. (Congress appropriated $100 million for fiscal year 2018; the Modernizing Government Technology Act authorized up to $500 million over two years for the TMF.) 

"I think so," Murphy replied, noting that the revolving fund "is a proof of concept" and that initial investments will go to projects where quick savings can "repay the fund quickly." The funded projects are also intended to "highlight areas where we can show savings" that agencies can point to as they request additional appropriations to pursue their own modernization efforts.

The board charged with reviewing TMF applications meets weekly and is now reviewing the second round of submissions, Murphy said. She added that GSA had just announced the appointment of an executive director who will coordinate the technical and business reviews of those applications.

Lawmakers also asked whether these modernization efforts would directly benefit citizens. Murphy noted that a project's ability to improve citizen services is one of the TMF board's four main criteria when assessing an application -- along with security, multiagency applicability and a clear path to savings.

Outside the TMF efforts, Murphy said, "GSA is the custodian of the federal citizen services fund," for which the agency has requested $58.4 million.  And in her opening remarks, Murphy mentioned the $6 million GSA is seeking for a "digital ID management pilot" for citizen-facing services.

Lawmakers expressed less interest in the $50 million GSA is requesting to recruit and retain top talent and to "re-skill the workforce to meet 21st century needs."

However, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) wanted to hear about the agency's willingness to respond to oversight requests from all lawmakers.  The Trump administration announced last May that agencies were obligated to respond only to requests from committee chairmen.  

Murphy said she had "issued a new policy, and made it absolutely clear ... GSA will be responsive to all members of Congress."   A former congressional committee staffer herself, Murphy said she'd been frustrated by a lack of agency transparency, and "I don't want to ever put anyone else in that position."

GSA's decisions concerning the FBI headquarters building and the Trump Organization's lease of the Old Post Office Building also drew questions.  Legislators from both parties wanted details on the decision to keep the FBI at its current downtown location, and Democratic committee members pressed on possible administration pressure in both matters.

Murphy stressed that it was the FBI that came to GSA about rethinking plans to move to a dedicated campus in Maryland or Virginia. She said the FBI downsized its headquarters capacity needs from 11,000 personnel to 8,000, she said, and it decided that proximity to the Department of Justice was "paramount."

About the Author

Troy K. Schneider is the Editor-in-Chief of both FCW and GCN, two of the oldest and most influential publications in public-sector IT. Both publications (originally known as Federal Computer Week and Government Computer News, respectively) are owned by GovExec. Mr. Schneider also serves GovExec's General Manager for Government Technology Brands.

Mr. Schneider previously served as New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company, where he oversaw the online operations of The Atlantic Monthly, National Journal, The Hotline and The Almanac of American Politics, among other publications. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Mr. Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.

Mr. Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.


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