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Johnson Speaks to FOSE Conference

As Prepared for Delivery

Remarks by
Martha N. Johnson
U.S. General Services Administration
Federal Office Systems Exposition
Washington, DC
March 25, 2010

GSA: The Big Engine that Will!

Thank you, Bob, for that generous introduction. I’m delighted to be with so many GSA customers and industry partners - and alumni - here at this year’s FOSE convention.

Your theme - “Technology Solutions for the Business of Government” - could be a commercial for one important part of GSA. Mostly, though, FOSE offers us an exciting chance to swarm -- as my kids say - to learn, to swap ideas and to network. We also can strengthen partnerships … partnerships that I believe help our economy … our government … and our citizens.

As you know, I now lead the U.S. General Services Administration. It took a long time to get here, but here I am. I am truly honored that President Obama chose me to lead this very important agency. And let me be clear … I took this job for one reason - to transform GSA into  “The Big Engine that Will.”

GSA’s mission is to support its client agencies so that they can focus squarely on their core missions. Yet, that grows more challenging every year. For GSA to succeed, we must seize change so that our customers can fulfill their missions in today’s world. We must deliver innovative solutions, not the solutions and tools that may have worked in the past.

Let me put it this way: Our commitment is that GSA is the government’s change agent.

How do we get there?

First, with technology - information technologies, building technologies - even human technologies. Second, by partnering with our industry and customers.

My goal today is to help you see this is as sensible, as it is sensational.

Before we can get where we need to go, we need to know where we are now. So where are we?  What change has already occurred? I’ve spent my first month in office asking that precise question. Here’s what I’ve learned.

The federal workplace is changing!

  • The very meaning of the word - workplace - has changed.
  • Today’s thinking is that work is what you do, not where you are.
  • Remember those little flurries we had last month, (I’m from North Dakota – so I can call them little flurries) the ones that shut down the government? Nearly 60 percent of GSA employees were working remotely from computers at home during the blizzard of 2010.
  • Work is what you do, not where you are.
  • And, since I couldn’t get in, I was actually sworn in as Administrator by phone standing in my kitchen. Work is what you do, not where you are.
  • There’s another way the workplace is changing. Our carbon and geographic footprints are merging.
  • Are we in gear on this?
  • The first step is baselining. The government is now gathering information about carbon usage and greenhouse gases in our buildings and activities. That information will help us understand how to shape the government workplace going forward.

As the workplace is changing, so is the work itself.

  • First, the government has to do more with less.
  • This requires a better head for thrift and better value propositions.
  • Those buying for the government have to be smarter shoppers.
  • Second, information technologies have exploded before our eyes.
  • In the last months of the Clinton Administration, we launched Now I return to the Obama Administration in which this White House is committed to harnessing technology to open and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government and to simplify and expand citizen access and engagement.
  • Third, Clinger-Cohen retagged GSA as a nonmandatory source for many goods and services.
  • I can recall when we had to learn to spell “marketing.”
  • As a result, GSA has developed more customer facing solutions.
  • Look at the volume on our schedules, which indicates the demand for a shopping process that is online and contains competitive information.

The workplace is changing. The work is changing.

How will GSA be the change agent - the big engine that will - for our government customers and equally progressive partners in industry?

My way of thinking about this is rather simple … GSA has learned to play in the market. Now we must decide if we want to win. Do we want to win your trust, win your confidence, win your partnership, and win your business? Yes ..Yes ...Yes ..Yes!

If so, there’s a growth scenario in our future.  Let’s imagine that GSA, which has grown from $35 billion to $65 billion since I left, is now going to $70 billion … $90 billion … $130 billion - or hey, blow your mind -- $200 billion!  We are currently about 13 percent of the federal spend - why shouldn’t we be handling 20 percent of this river of consumption?

A mere handful of scenarios could jump-start significant growth for GSA. And each would foretell, impel, and compel significant change.

Mandate change:

  • What if Congress pushes through aggressive cooperative purchasing and decides GSA schedules should be open to state and local business?
  • Imagine that scenario! Our volume discounts would be available to localities struggling with economic pressures.
  • Our engagement with small business would be transformed. We could be providing them with vastly wider markets through more streamlined marketing and information flow.

A second scenario could be market change:

  • There are significant and specific pockets of market expansion where we could help: The Department of Veteran’s Affairs, or health care information.
  • The market is also maturing. Government’s needs are changing and industry is evolving - by adjusting to that smartly, we could build customers and business.

A third scenario puts the question squarely to GSA.  We could win more business, to put it baldly, if we step up our performance with and for you.

  • This is not about mandate or market changes.
  • This is in our hands.
  • If GSA ups its game, I am confident that GSA’s business will grow.

How do I expect to do that? There’s no mystery here.

Business literature says there are three fundamental ways to improve performance. Customer intimacy, innovation, and operational excellence.

  • Customers are our lifeblood.
  • Supporting your mission is our mission. This demands a deep understand and resonance with our customers.
  • Coincidentally, the Obama Administration has posed a challenge to GSA that we feel will galvanize our customer intimacy skills.
  • The challenge is open government.
  • And the heart of open government is transparency, which equates to customer intimacy.
  • GSA is, if you will, the membrane between government and industry, and between government and solutions.
  • If that membrane is healthy, water and nutrients can pass through, and the organism will flourish.
  • Transparency allows a better flow of “water and nutrients,” which we know as data, information, and knowledge.
  • Technology will help that. Technology solutions allow GSA to be that “healthier membrane” between industry and government.
  • To that end, my talented colleague Dave McClure is heading our Citizen Services Office. Dave has GSA in the vanguard of using technology to help agencies talk to and empower the public.
  • Transparency in action!
  • By leveraging a single solution ideation tool, GSA gave 23 federal agencies a unified but customizable way to meet their open government mandates, and we did all the policy clearances for them lickety split.
  • Transparency in action!
  • Our Federal Acquisition Service’s Better Buy Project produced ideas for improving acquisitions by gathering feedback from new media tools.
  • Transparency in action!

The second way to improve performance is through innovation. Our customers want cutting-edge solutions, not ones that were relevant in the 1990s or even “up to date”! That’s not good enough. Innovation gives GSA torque as a change agent.

GSA has a tradition of innovation.

  • Design Excellence;
  • Creation of our schedule program;
  • Federal vehicles with seat belts; and;
  • Early adoption of the Internet.

But, innovation creates risk.

And this where GSA - as a consolidated, centralized agency, can really help industry and customers - by leveraging and managing risk. That’s our hands-down solid business proposition.

First, GSA has business expertise, which can help the federal buyer better avoid shopping mistakes. For example: agencies want to use free media and social networking tools. How was the federal buyer to do this within the rules and not make a stupid shopping decision?

GSA lifted that problem out of the laps of dozens of individual agencies. We negotiated 33 federal-compatible terms of service with third party providers. We just did it. And it worked. To date there are 85 government You Tube Channels, 80 government Facebook pages, and counting.

We have expertise. We also have broad shoulders. GSA can take on risk because we have a large denominator across which to divide that risk.

We have the reach - across the country, across governments, across time zones, across environments, and across industry.

For example - we can try various green roof technologies.

We can try to put a plate in the road at the San Ysidro Land Port in California and see whether the trucks that bounce over the border really can generate enough electricity to run that border station. We can take those risks! For our customers and for the market!

Third, thanks to the Obama Administration, we have the arena to demonstrate innovation.  If NASA had the moon shot and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency had the Internet, GSA has two arenas for innovation: sustainability and open government.

As Commissioner Peck of our Public Buildings Service says, we can be a proving ground.

Let’s start with the sustainability side: It is in our DNA.

  • From historic restoration, preservation and historic building reuse …
    to green government products and services on our schedules.

And sustainability is in our work plan going forward.

  • We will support data center consolidation.
  • We will support greener, more efficient secure IT solutions
  • We will deliver a greenhouse gas tracking and management tool free to agencies.
  • We will drive greening the supply chain.

Turning to open government … we’ve talked about transparency, now let me talk about collaboration … (collective intelligence)

The third rail for growth at GSA is to boost GSA performance to a point of operational excellence.

  • GSA is already a massive machine of “get er done.” But we can now step up to President Obama’s challenge of a better government for the people.
  • We can, and it will happen through the highly disciplined process of transformation.
  • Transformation became a science launched by the total quality movement in the 1970's. it is rooted in what I call the pull metric.
  • First there was the pull metric of total quality…(Cummins Engine Company in the 1980’s)

What is truly transformed?  The processes, yes. The performance, yes.  But most importantly, the people. Transformation = talent.

This is important to me as an educator, as a manager, and as a steward of the federal worker and the federal workspace.

I believe the people of GSA - all GSA - including our acquisition, contracting, project manager cadre - will be transformed by a pull metric. They will change - we will change. And as a result the new disciplines, the system, the culture, the processes, the tools, can up our game.

You see, it is the customers that will pull us to reverse engineer our process and also pull us to a new level of professionalism.

I believe in the efficacy of work - that is my personal passion and philosophy. With the great work of our domain and the great work of responding to customers, the people of GSA can grow and flourish.

In closing let me be clear. For GSA, our future is in winning with you and in winning for you.

To our customers…let me say we will win by delivering on your missions. We will win through our new harmonics with you.  We will win through innovation ... through technology … through shared risk … and through cultural and process transformation. 

To our industry partners let me say we will win by encouraging and harnessing your best ideas … by transforming ourselves to be ever better partners … and by working together to make better the business of government.

We all win when GSA is a healthy, vital membrane between industry and government.

Before I go, I have an “ask” of both our customer and our industry partners:

  • Be ever more clear about your needs and challenges.
  • Don’t hesitate to speak honestly about what we can do for you.
  • Ask us for ranges of options, ask us for solutions, and
    challenge us to be the big engine that will.

Thank you all, and thanks to FOSE for this great conference!

View short video: Johnson Aims to Transform GSA 

View long video: Johnson Addresses 2010 FOSE Convention (full version)

View photo gallery: FOSE 2010