SAN ANTONIO — Dan Tangherlini, who was named acting administrator of the General Services Administration last month after the release of an inspector general’s report detailing wasteful spending at the 2010 Western Regions Conference, is conducting a “top-to-bottom” review of the agency.
He discussed some of his ideas for how to move GSA forward in an interview Wednesday at the GSA Expo. Following are excerpts:
Q: Is integrating GSA’s Public Buildings Service and Federal Acquisition Service something the agency is seriously considering?
Tangherlini: I think just integrating GSA better is one of the things we are particularly interested in. As we looked at what took place at the Western Regions Conference, we saw that we hadn’t struck the right balance between autonomy and accountability. Can we maintain the benefits of autonomy and innovation and different approaches that reflect the needs of customer agencies and regions, while we enhance and improve the accountability? I think integration is a part of that.
Not having multiple organizations within our organization doing the same thing is going to allow us to be more efficient ourselves, deliver our services more effectively and reduce costs. I think they are closely tied together right now, but I think there are opportunities for them to work more closely together.
When we move in together into 1800 F Street [GSA headquarters in Washington] and the renovations are completed, the two sides will be together for the first time in modern history, and there will be real opportunities for best practices across the organization and to make sure we do things once, and do it well and do it more cost effectively.
Q: There are four acting Public Buildings Service (PBS) regional commissioners and other employees recently appointed. When are you looking to permanently put new people into these positions?
Tangherlini: That’s one of our key challenges. We want to be careful and thoughtful about it. I think as we look at programs from top to bottom and ask ourselves, ‘Are there any other changes we need to make?’ that would be an opportunity to look at where are the positions where we need people permanently.
I think we have to strike the balance to make sure we have people in place and that if acting is limiting in some way we eliminate that concern. But we also need to make sure we are building a leadership team for the GSA we are going to have.
Are there places where we duplicate services that are being provided within the organization itself? One of the ideas we have already looked at is consolidating our internal finance shop and having one finance shop. We are looking at issues around [information technology] services within GSA and acquisition services within GSA, [and] PBS and [the Federal Acquisition Service] coming closer together and doing it once and doing it right as a way of reducing the cost of the services that we provide.
Q: What is the agency doing to improve morale?
Tangherlini: One of the things I say to employees is that morale starts with all of us. We have to be in charge of our own morale.
I am trying to help morale at the leadership level by having the virtual town halls, by staying in close communication, conducting chatter conversations where people can raise their concerns and we can try to dialogue around them. People need to remember why we are in this business to begin with. What we have to do is such an important mission and it’s so important to the country today as we deal with fiscal constraint.
The General Services Administration helps agencies save money; we are the government savings agent. If we can figure out ways where we can deliver those services more efficiently, more effectively for our agency partners, then that’s a great day at the office.
Q: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee sent a letter to the GSA inspector general asking him to expand his investigation into GSA’s contracting practices and its conference spending as a whole. What do you think about that?
Tangherlini: I don’t see it hurting. That’s their responsibility as an oversight body to ask questions like that. I think it’s good they are asking questions. It’s the IG’s job to do that kind of audit and look into these issues. I think it’s good that there are going to be the folks that facilitate that. I can say we are committed as an organization to getting them all the information.
I want to know, frankly, what has taken place as well. I want to make sure that we get a good accounting of the past so we can use it to build the best possible future.
That’s really the key here: recognizing that you drive a car by looking through the windshield but you have rear view mirrors so you have a sense of what’s coming up behind you and where you have been. I think it’s important that we do that, but we have to recognize that our primary responsibilities are moving forward, delivering high quality services and reducing the cost of government.
Q: Sales through the federal supply schedules have grown slowly in the past few years and dropped slightly in fiscal 2011. What does this tell you about the health of the schedules program?
Tangherlini: I don’t know if it speaks more to the health of the schedules as much as it speaks to [whether] we’ve done enough to make clear what the value is. GSA needs to find solutions of maximum benefit to an agency so they see the value and use it.
Agencies have mission needs. They face resource constraints. GSA is focused on leveraging the scale of the government to meet some of those needs, and [getting agencies to] let us worry about those details for them so they can focus on bigger missions.
Q: Contractors have raised concerns that agencies are pushing prices too low for businesses to survive and at the expense of quality products and services. As GSA tries to negotiate the best price for agencies, how does it approach negotiations with its vendors?
Tangherlini: Our responsibility is to get not only the best price but the best value for government. And we have to show that the process was fair and equitable.
At the end of the day, the accountability goes back to the American taxpayer. Price is always going to be incredibly important. And we need to be stronger and clearer in explaining how we spend money. I have to explain it to Congress, the inspector general, and the American people.