A Brief History of GSA

GSA was established by President Harry Truman on July 1, 1949, to streamline the administrative work of the federal government. GSA consolidated the National Archives Establishment, the Federal Works Agency, and the Public Buildings Administration; the Bureau of Federal Supply and the Office of Contract Settlement; and the War Assets Administration into one federal agency tasked with administering supplies and providing workplaces for federal employees.

GSA’s original mission was to dispose of war surplus goods, manage and store government records, handle emergency preparedness, and stockpile strategic supplies for wartime. GSA also regulated the sale of various office supplies to federal agencies and managed some unusual operations, such as hemp plantations in South America.

Today, through its two largest offices – the Public Buildings Service and the Federal Acquisition Service – and various staff offices, GSA provides workspace to more than 1 million federal civilian workers, oversees the preservation of more than 480 historic buildings, and facilitates the federal government's purchase of high-quality, low-cost goods and services from quality commercial vendors.

1950s and 1960s

In the 1950s, GSA took on a major overhaul of the White House. “Really it was more than a renovation; it was a rebuilding,” recalled inaugural Administrator Jess Larson.

GSA took on the critical assignment of emergency preparedness and began stockpiling strategic materials to be used in wartime. GSA retained various emergency management functions until they were transferred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1979.

In 1960, GSA created the Federal Telecommunications System, a governmentwide intercity telephone system. In 1962, the Ad Hoc Committee on Federal Office Space recommended a major new building program to address obsolete office buildings in Washington, D.C., resulting in the construction of many of the offices that now line Independence Avenue.

1970s and 1980s

In 1970, the Nixon administration created the Consumer Product Information Coordinating Center. Now called the Federal Citizen Information Center, FCIC has distributed millions of consumer information publications from its Pueblo, Colorado facility.

Authorized in 1971, the Federal Buildings Fund became operational in 1974 when GSA issued its first rent bills to federal agencies. In 1972, GSA established the Automated Data and Telecommunications Service, which evolved into the Office of Information Resources Management 10 years later.

GSA also became involved in administrative policy issues. In 1973, GSA created the Office of Federal Management Policy. GSA’s Office of Acquisition Policy centralized procurement policy in 1978. In 1985 GSA began to provide governmentwide policy oversight and guidance for federal real property management as a result of an Executive Order signed by President Ronald Reagan.

In 1984, GSA introduced the federal government to the use of charge cards. Today, the GSA SmartPay program has more than 3 million card holders. In 1987, GSA opened its first child care center, and now manages 110 federal child care facilities for more than 8,300 children across the country.

By 1995, all of GSA's policy functions had been merged into the Office of Government-wide Policy, which sets policy in the areas of personal and real property, travel, transportation, information technology, regulatory information, and use of federal advisory committees.


Inspired by the "Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture," written in 1962 by the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, in 1994 GSA's Public Building Service introduced the Design Excellence Program to streamline the way it selects architects and engineers for major construction projects. The program has resulted in outstanding and enduring examples of federal architecture.

In 1995, GSA formed the Courthouse Management Group to manage the largest courthouse construction project in 50 years. The project has resulted in the renovation or rebuilding of federal courthouses across the nation.

Early 2000s

As the agency transformed itself to enter the 21st century, GSA embraced new technologies, launched electronic government initiatives, and helped develop means of doing government business on the Internet. GSA assumed responsibility for President George W. Bush’s E-Gov Initiatives: E-Authentication, E-Gov Travel, Federal Asset Sales, and the Integrated Award Environment in 2001.

In 2007, GSA consolidated the Federal Telecommunication Service into the Federal Acquisition Service to better align the delivery of its services in an ever-changing business world.

In 2009, a new Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies was created to foster public engagement by using innovative technologies to connect the public to government information and services. The list of GSA citizen-focused websites and social media outreach efforts continued to grow.


A 2009-2010 milestone was the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act efforts. With the goal of transforming federal buildings into high-performing green buildings, GSA completed work at over 500 Recovery Act projects< in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. With a strong program that emphasized stewardship, oversight, and transparency, and teams that used creative, integrated systems thinking, GSA completed an unprecedented amount of work in a short time.

GSA’s ARRA program covered a variety of work, including mechanical upgrades, new lighting, window replacements, cool or green roofs, water-saving fixtures, onsite renewable energy, and necessary repairs. Green building features and practices can show measurable improvements in areas including recycling, sustainable products and materials, overall operation and maintenance costs, and water use.

GSA also installed 30 vegetated “green roofs” through ARRA investments. Green roofs absorb more of the sun’s heat to help keep urban areas cooler and healthier for people, and reduce flooding by retaining stormwater that would otherwise overload sewers or flow untreated into waterways.

The results speak for themselves:

  • Buildings with completed projects are now 22 percent more energy efficient than they were before ARRA.

  • The savings are enough to provide electricity to more than 60,000 U.S. homes, and the greenhouse gas reductions are equivalent to taking 76,000 cars off the road.

  • Affected facilities are now using 27 percent less energy per square foot than an average commercial office building, and are even outperforming their ARRA projects’ design energy targets by seven percent.

These efficiency improvements make economic sense, saving taxpayers over $68 million per year in utility costs alone.

Finally, a key Recovery Act goal was to serve as an economic catalyst. To advance economic and social benefits in communities across America, GSA selected projects where work could begin quickly, and contracted with competitively-selected private sector architecture, engineering, and construction firms. More than 60 percent of the firms contracted for GSA’s ARRA program were small businesses. Construction of the new U.S. Courthouse in Bakersfield, California, for example, created more than 650 construction jobs, and workers spent up to $200,000 per month of their own income in the local community.

In 2010, GSA became the first federal agency to move email to a cloud-based system, which reduced inefficiencies and lowered costs by 50 percent.

President Barack Obama’s Open Government Directive instructed federal agencies to actively open their operations to the public. To that end, GSA developed Data.gov, a website to foster democracy, information sharing, and transparency. Already, entrepreneurs across the country have used this open data in new and innovative ways:

  • FarmPlenty helps farmers better analyze U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) open data on crops grown within a five mile radius of their farms. Inspired by his conversations with farmers on the challenges faced in predicting crop yields and consumer demand, founder George Lee built his application as part of the USDA-Microsoft Innovation Challenge. His Grand Prize-awarded application is supported by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) CropScape and Quickstats APIs.
  • Students are able to compare the cost of college with other significant data points, such as graduation rates and average salaries of graduates to determine where to get the most bang for their buck.
  • Communities can map demographic, income, and school data to promote Fair Housing.
  • Patients can find information on the safety and cost of hospitals, nursing homes, and physicians, empowering them to make smarter health care choices.

In 2012 – for the seventh year in a row – GSA was named to the Top 10 Best Places to Work in Federal Government by the Partnership for Public Service.

GSA has been on the forefront of environmental, energy, and economic performance by making our portfolio of federal buildings more energy efficient through an array of strategies including Energy Savings Performance Contracts, advanced metering, the Green Proving Ground Program, and EPA’s ENERGY STAR programs.

During this time, GSA also pushed to the forefront of transforming the way the federal government operates by introducing new technologies, smarter acquisition platforms, and innovative workspace.

In 2013, GSA launched a comprehensive service to create a 21st century workplace throughout the federal government. GSA’s Total Workplace initiative provided resources and expertise to help federal agencies reduce office space, foster collaboration, better manage IT spending, and increase energy efficiency.

In addition to Total Workplace, GSA began managing the Presidential Innovation Fellows program. Like the White House Fellows, who have a permanent home in OPM, this important program now had a permanent home to help it grow and scale its impact. The highly-competitive program attracts top innovators to government to work on 12-month projects for various federal agencies. The PIF program pairs talented, diverse technologists and innovators with top civil-servants and change-makers working at the highest levels of the federal government to tackle some our nation’s biggest challenges.

In January 2014, GSA took another step forward in increasing collaboration among government and industry by launching a new social media community on Interact.gsa.govfor its Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs).

In 2014, GSA continued to lead efforts to improve the operations of government. GSA continued to pursue the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI), a program that created significant savings by leveraging the buying power of the federal government to drive down costs. This program would eventually be scaled into the agency’s focus on Category Management, the Acquisition Gateway, and getting the government to “Act as One” when it comes to buying.

This same year, GSA announced the creation of 18F. 18F, a first of its kind startup within GSA, launched with a team of 15 designers, engineers, and product specialists focused on improving the federal government’s digital services. Over the next 2 years, the team would grow to 200 as its product and client work increased.

In 2015, the Senate confirmed Denise Turner Roth to be the 39th administrator of GSA; she was sworn in on August 7, 2015. Prior to her role as Administrator, Denise Turner Roth served as the Deputy Administrator of GSA since 2014.

On August 17, 2015, President Obama signed an Executive Order making the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program permanent and gave it a home inside the GSA, and established a PIF Leadership Team to run the day-to-day and strategic operations of the program.

On November 2015, recognizing the significant real estate footprint of the agency in communities across the country, GSA launched a nationwide economic catalyst initiative to better align agency’s building, leasing, and relocation plans with the economic development goals of local communities.

In early 2016, GSA launched the Acquisition Gateway as a way of helping federal government buyers from all agencies act as one acquisition community. Inside the Acquisition Gateway, users can find side-by-side comparisons of government-wide acquisition solutions, connect with other acquisition professionals, and explore product and service category “hallways.” By September 2016, the Acquisition Gateway surpassed 10,000 registered users.

On April 6, 2016, GSA launched a series of new programs collectively called the “Making It Easier” (MIE) initiative. MIE makes it easier for new and innovative companies to do business with the government. It also provides small businesses with tools and support they need to do work with the government. Programs include the IT Schedule 70 Plain Language Roadmap, Welcome Package, FASt Lane, IT Schedule 70 Springboard, and Forecast Tool.

Further bolstering the U.S. government’s innovation infrastructure, GSA announced the creation of the Technology Transformation Service (TTS) on May 3, 2016. TTS helps agencies navigate how to build, buy, and share user-centered and emerging technology solutions. TTS consolidated the agency’s emerging technology efforts, including the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, 18F, and the Presidential Innovation Fellows.

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