GSA Chief Seeks Change, IT Innovation

The government's main internal supplier is poised for growth, says the General Services Administration's new head, Martha Johnson.
New General Services Administration head Martha Johnson says that the agency must "seize change" in order to help navigate itself and government through an era of rapidly transforming technologies.

"We are past the notion that the market should be given to us, now we are at the point where we need to ask, do we want to win?" Johnson said in a keynote address Tuesday at an event held by IT industry group TechAmerica. She noted that GSA, which provides goods and services to other federal agencies, is continuing to hone its marketing vision and strategy under her leadership.

Johnso sees numerous opportunities for growth at the agency. She was chief of staff at GSA during the Clinton administration, and is brings to her new position some private sector thinking from her more recent role as a VP at CSC.

She's hired new staff to do risk management, business analytics, and scenario work, and to look at everything from sure bets to far-out scenarios that could have major impacts on the future of GSA, like "cooperative purchasing" where GSA schedules would become available to state and local governments.]

In her keynote, Johnson said that she sees a three-fold approach to growing GSA's share of the federal government's wallet and improving the agency's performance: focusing on customer intimacy, innovation, and "operational excellence."

In terms of customer intimacy, GSA last year hired former Gartner analyst Dave McClure to head up the agency's new Office of Citizen Engagement. McClure has been revamping the federal government's Website,, and has been helping lead federal agencies through the initial stages of compliance with the Obama administration's Open Government Directive.

This includes a move to provide agencies with a crowdsourcing tool to solicit ideas for their open government plans. GSA has also launched a collaborative procurement project called Better Buy that's currently in pilot phase.

Turning to innovation, Johnson said, "being relevant is not enough." Johnson said that GSA has a key role to play in helping agencies manage the risks associated with innovating. "If NASA had the moonshot and DARPA had the Internet, we have sustainability and open government," she said. "We can be a proving ground."

For example, Johnson noted that GSA will soon be offering agencies a free greenhouse gas and management tool so that they can report on their greenhouse gas use as required by a recent executive order handed down by the Obama administration.

She also said that, in order to lead federal agencies toward innovative technologies, GSA itself must be innovative. As an example, Johnson noted GSA's recent successes in teleworking. During the back-to-back blizzards in the Washington, D.C., area last month, 60% of GSA employees logged in remotely and worked from home. Johnson herself was sworn in over the phone from her kitchen.

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