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New deputy GSA administrator to focus on internal operations

May. 5, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
Denise Turner Roth has hit the ground running at GSA.
Denise Turner Roth has hit the ground running at GSA. (ACT/IAC)

Denise Turner Roth was appointed to be the new deputy administrator at the General Services Administration on Jan. 7, and officially took over the role March 14. But she is not wasting any time as she meets with different offices within the agency to figure out ways to improve how government does business.

Roth is no stranger to government. She has spent 18 years in local government in jobs such as the city manager for Greensboro, N.C., and the public space manager of the District of Columbia Department of Transportation.

Roth discussed her role at GSA and what she plans to do to help improve internal processes with Federal Times Staff Writer Andy Medici at the ACT-IAC Small Business Conference in Washington on April 24.

Why did you take the job?

Because it was an awesome opportunity. It really was a great intersection between my past experience and working alongside Dan Tangherlini. Having worked with him several years ago and having my career expand from that point up to here — I worked for him when I was public space manager — was a great opportunity for me to take the next step. So it was the intersection of the work that I have done over my career, plus working with him, plus doing it for the federal government was just really exciting.

What do you have to say about stepping into an environment where budgets are tight?

I am not sure I even think that is relevant. I mean, the truth of the matter is, the federal government has a role and service to play. And the role that we are focused on, the role that I am focused on, is how do we improve at what we do. So whether we are doing it with $5 or $5 million or $5 billion, we need to do that as well as we can because we have the American people depending on it.

And whatever we are spending our time on, we need to ensure that we are doing it in the most efficient way, that we are doing it in the most cost-effective way, and that we are helping, especially for GSA, that we are helping the agencies that we serve be able to put their program dollars, whatever that amount is, in the people — in the places they need to serve.

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For housing or whether it is Health and Human Services, whatever that agency is they should be spending time on their programs. We should be spending time managing their facilities, helping them make their choices and decisions as they transition as agencies.

So what do you see being your role as the deputy administrator?

Looking for operational efficiencies. Looking for best practices. Trying to implement those across the organization. Looking for services that are not working or processes that are not working and improving on those as well as the quality and direction of our leadership. [We are] ensuring that we are hitting out targets, setting expectations, setting the bar higher each time. And that we are actually achieving that. And that takes just a lot of routine, a lot of focus, as well as being open to innovative and creative ideas.

Is there anything that you see specifically tackling over the next few months or the next year?

There is a list of things, and it goes from, for example, in the back end we have merged all of our what we call CXO offices, the operational offices, into one reporting to the central office. So ensuring that that transition is going well both from evaluating how many people we need doing what type of jobs, whether they are signed and positioned in the right place. At the other side of the pendulum, we have implemented recently a new travel system and ensuring how that is working for our partner agencies and where there is opportunity to learn how to do implementation better.

Are you going to be meeting with other agencies to get GSA services and products out there?

To the extent that I do that, it will be in support of Dan as well as to learn what we need to do better internally. So my focus is really looking inside, where we are looking to produce concepts that we can then encourage other agencies to use our process whether it is through acquisition or if it is specific products that we want them to buy from us versus somewhere else. Are we doing that in the most efficient way?

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And so that is where that best practice evaluation comes in, and looking at how we can expand it across the organization. But where we say that we can do IT for other agencies, ensuring that we have a clear process of how we go about doing that work and that is something that is repeatable.

Are you looking at using GSA as an incubator for unique ideas that you can then export or have other agencies tap into?

Every day, yes, every day. And actually there was an email from an agency just the other day on that, on the 1800F solution ... asking us the question how do we go about implementing it. Like the idea, we want to be able to go there, but how do we go through that process of preparing our employees for reduced space and working in this new environment, and what were some of those lessons learned? And that is a great example of looking internally to ensure that we know what steps we went through, what worked, what did not work, and how we make that repeatable for other agencies.

Do you have a role in sort of looking after employee morale?

Yes, absolutely. Our new [Federal Employee Viewpoint] surveys will be going out soon, so we have been looking at our past scores as well as where we are moving to and trying to be honest about what is not working.

We had a session a couple weeks ago just looking at the performance of our past numbers on a global scale and asking from an executive level why are we seeing areas that are not working in comparison to areas that are working really well. And evaluating what are those managers doing, what is the experience in that workgroup that we could maybe replicate in other areas. So that is definitely something that I will be working on.

Are you focused on internal IT issues such as the GSA consolidation of data centers and improvement of technologies? Or is it more of a blend between that and the services that GSA offers externally to other agencies?

Sometimes it is just that side of the internal services, and sometimes it is the blend. There is so much that we do internally that is copied, especially on the acquisition side of the house.

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One of the things that I am really sensitive to and looking to spend more time with is if we say to the agencies, “we can offer you this,” then GSA needs to be the best at doing it. And so if we are offering them a service, then we need to understand what that service is, how we are applying it internally because it is the first question they ask: “Is that something that GSA uses, and how are you using it, and what has been your experience?”

We do have to be the incubator and the test area. It happens naturally, but it is something that we are looking to make more programmed.

What is your goal for one year into the job or two years into the job? What would be your metric for success in the job?

I would say that if you ask me that question in about a month I will have a better answer, but I am going through the process of building my understanding of each of the offices because as the chief operating officer, one of my true focuses is the operational side of the organization. And so with that, as well as with PBS and FAS, of getting deep dives or in-depth briefings on some areas that I know a little bit about that I have decided I wanted to learn more about. And from that I am developing that list of what are the things I should focus on.

Are you optimistic about what you are going to be able to get done at GSA?

It is like I said at the beginning: Our responsibility is about improving how we deliver services. We constantly need to be challenging ourselves to do better, to be better. The federal government is a large organization that touches a lot of things.

And it is not frequently that organizations stop and look in themselves internally and say, “Are we doing that as best we can? Are we doing things because it has always been done that way? Or are we doing it because we know that is the way that is going to be give us the highest results?” Until we scrub ourselves at every level, our job is not done. So yes, there is a lot of work to be done.

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