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Editorial: GSA must act quickly to restore its reputation

May. 20, 2012 - 11:36AM   |  
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Acting General Services Administrator Dan Tangherlini’s chief task is to make GSA respectable again.

That won’t be easy.

The well-documented excesses of GSA’s lavish 2010 Las Vegas conference, complete with mind reader, skits and more than $800,000 in expenses are the reason the White House grabbed Tangherlini from the Treasury Department and dispatched him to mop up the mess at GSA.

Hitting the ground running, he has already:

• Centralized control by placing regional finance officers under the direction of GSA headquarters, rather than regional administrators.

• Halted most travel and conference spending until leaders have confidence those funds are managed appropriately.

• Consolidated authority for conference spending in a single office.

That’s a good start. But more must still be done to assure the rest of government that GSA is living up to its mandate to save the government money — rather than waste it on frivolous parties.

First and foremost, GSA must redefine itself as a fierce agent of government efficiency and savings. Culturally and institutionally, GSA carries itself more like a corporate player — preoccupied with striking deals, starting new business ventures, and generating sales and revenues.

Maximizing savings for government customers needs to be the pre-eminent measure of its success.

Second, GSA must prove, through its own aggressive negotiations, that it is an effective negotiator. Increasingly, agencies are opting out of GSA because they believe they can cut better deals on their own. If that’s true, GSA is failing in its mission.

GSA’s recent move to negotiate multiagency bulk purchase agreements for popular products, known as strategic sourcing, is a good start, and it should expand those efforts.

Third, GSA should partner more closely with its own inspector general’s office, which audits contractor-proposed prices and contract terms before they are awarded to ensure maximum value for the government customer. These pre-award audits, which can unearth everything from overcharging for labor rates or overhead to examples of other vendors offering far better deals, lead to lower prices and better terms.

By more closely cooperating with the IG, GSA executives could expand the number of pre-award audits GSA does each year. In the six-month period ending Sept. 30, the IG’s office conducted only 52 pre-award audits, of which GSA acted on only 32. Those 32 pre-award audits delivered $200 million in better prices and terms for federal customers.

Finally, GSA headquarters must continue to assert more control over its regional offices.

Tangherlini has a golden opportunity to overhaul and reform GSA and make it the shining example of government efficiency and effectiveness that it can and should be. He must seize the opportunity by continuing to strike now, while the momentum is working in his favor.

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