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.

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 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 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. 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.

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.


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 (FAS) 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.


GSA completed work at over 500 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) projects in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. GSA’s ARRA program covered a variety of work aimed at transforming federal buildings into high-performing buildings, including mechanical upgrades, new lighting, window replacements, cool or green roofs, water-saving fixtures, onsite renewable energy, and necessary repairs.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.

The United States’ 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.

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 (PIF) program. 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.

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.

On Aug. 17, 2015, President Obama signed an executive order, which moved the PIF program inside the GSA and established a PIF Leadership Team to run the day-to-day and strategic operations of the program. The PIF program was made permanent by the TALENT Act of 2017, introduced by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, which was signed into law on Jan. 20, 2017.

In early 2016, GSA launched the Acquisition Gateway as a way of helping federal government buyers from all agencies act as one acquisition community. 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.

On June 7, 2017, TTS was moved into FAS and renamed Technology Transformation Services. The reorganization allowed the elimination of duplicative functions in TTS and FAS, saving taxpayer money and streamlining government operations, and allowed GSA to expand the scope of work TTS can impact.

Last Reviewed: 2020-07-31