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Johnson Says GSA Can Satisfy Agency Technology Needs

Condensed remarks

Remarks by
Martha N. Johnson
U.S. General Services Administration
GSA Network Services Conference
Orlando, FL
June 22, 2010

Thank you very much, Steve [Kempf], for the kind introduction. I am thrilled to be here. I think my last Network Services Conference was 1998. I never thought that I would be back here at the podium. Thanks to [GSA's] Karl [Krumbholz], Ed [O'Hare], and to Mike [Ponti from DOD] for your comments about our partnership with DOD. DOD is our largest client, and, therefore, one which we regularly attempt to find new and innovative ways to support. So it's wonderful that you're here supporting us, and it gives us a chance to further that.

I want to walk you through a bit about what GSA is up to these days -- unpack it a bit. I'm still on my exploration tour and feel that going through that helps me stay clear and might help you help us, as partners, figure out and understand what our next steps should be. Our mission at GSA is the mission of the agencies that we serve. It's a little bit like a Russian doll. We are embedded in the mission of our clients. And as we work to understand what they need, we are able then to evolve further in our support of them.

But really, if you step back and think about it, the [Department of ] Veterans Affairs needs to take care of the veterans; we need to take care of the [Department of] Veterans Affairs. The Education Department needs to pay attention to the education of the children and young people across this nation, but we need to be taking care of the Department of Education. Our industry partners understand that. It is a very important chain of support to further our government and strengthen it. So our mission is very important to us, and it has that sort of double-take to it. It's a double-click into the government.

From that, when I arrived at GSA, I decided that we needed to clarify our strategy. And I have this obsession that strategy is not something that you should spend months and months going to long off-sites and petting and finessing and wordsmithing. Strategies can be pretty straightforward, and they're about capturing everyone's imagination and getting everybody focused in the same direction. So in helping GSA get focused on its strategy this spring, I simply went to the Internet.

And the Internet in the early 1990s reported that there was a fairly straightforward way in which you assessed whether organizations were doing what they needed to do. There are three dimensions of a performing organization. You could look these words up online, and you can come up with this particular model. It was actually – and I should acknowledge – it was put forward by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, again in the early 1990s. And the three components of a strategy are customer intimacy, innovation, and operational excellence. I want you to hold those three in your head, see if you can remember them as I tick through them. And I want you to understand how we're unpacking that so that you can appreciate where we are going to be turning to industry and to our customers to help us do our work ever better.

Customer intimacy, innovation, and operational excellence. We named that as our three circle-Venn diagram. And lo and behold, President Obama handed us an agenda that fits right into it.

I am really quite stunned at how GSA has changed in the last 10 years since I was chief of staff. Frankly, when I was there in the ’90s we did not have a lot of interaction with the White House. They were looking to us for support, but they were not actively engaging us in ways that they could have. This president appreciates and understands that GSA is an asset to the government – a genuine asset to be called upon and not just to be referred to in a reactive way.

So the president has handed us an agenda in that sense of reaching to GSA and saying, "Step up." And there are three components of it which fit into this Venn diagram very nicely. So if you'll allow me to be a little compulsive here and get you all sorted out on this, I can then organize my comments all that much better.

The president has turned to us for the Open Government Directive. This is intensely important to him. As a senator, the legislation that he sponsored was open, transparent government legislation. He has been carrying this torch for many years. It is critical and crucial to who he is and how he wants his administration to be and how he wants to leave the government down the road. So the open government initiative has been handed to us, and I will explain a little bit about that. But that is essentially a customer intimacy approach. Being transparent, being open, having boundaries that people can see across is the way that we can move forward as a healthier government and allows GSA to think about how it can help that and be better partnered with all of the complex partnerships that we have.

The second under the heading of innovation is something that Steve mentioned, and that is, of course, sustainability. The president – I was sitting in the audience and my jaw dropped. He said, "I have a green team. It is the Department of Energy, the Council for Environmental Quality, and GSA." Right out there in front, we are part of the green team, and we are taking that very seriously by declaring our goals around zero environmental footprint. We are also accelerating the expectation on us and on our partners around innovation. We're going to have to do huge amounts of innovation to support the goals of sustainability.

And, finally, operational excellence. The president has specifically looked to GSA in his quest to improve the business of government. It is coming to us in a number of ways around real property management, around acquisition work force strengthening, and so on. But we are on the front lines of working on the issues of operational excellence and the business of government.

I want to go back now and take you through each of these just a little bit.
All right. So the open government directive. The open government directive came in three parts. And this is so interesting because a piece of this we really understand and know how to do, and a piece of it we have no clue what to do. So I am inviting you to participate with us in the conversation about how to move the government forward in openness and transparency.

So the order came through as such: first of all, transparency. Transparency is pretty straightforward. We need to be able to see in. It's not translucent; it's not opaque. It's transparent. You can see in, and we can share what's going on. It's about the notion of sunshine. Sunshine kills bacteria. And in the moldy corners and closets of bureaucracy, it is good to have a sense of transparency so that some of that gets cleaned out. This is not just about governments being able to see each other. It's also about the citizens being able to see in and understand what is going on with their government.

A couple of examples about ways we are forwarding this transparency agenda is, of course, the integrated acquisition effort that we have under way. There are some eight contracting acquisition databases that need to have a little bit more weaving together. They need to be collapsed into one, and we are strenuously going forward on working on that.

The second is, which is an opportunity to give the public access to federal data systems and democratize our data so that they can use it, cut it, analyze it, interact with it, not just look at it. One of my former stints was at the Department of Commerce, where I developed a huge respect for our weather service. Their data is in part scientifically generated, but their mission is also to share it with the public. And we all benefit from the fact that the public can have access to that data and repackage it so that it's useful to us. And that is what we are after with Transparency is a pretty understandable agenda for us. I think we have the tools. It's about getting it done and moving forward.

The second part of the open government agenda is participation. And this is, I think, a fascinating part of the world because it's what our children are all about. Participation is Web 2.0. It is about Google, Facebook, online access, social networks, blogging; and it is the explosion of participatory conversation that's going on around us in our culture. The president pioneered use of these tools and this approach in his campaign, made it a landmark campaign in that respect, and mostly made it a successful campaign. We are chartered to take these notions and insert them into our public government life.

Dave McClure, and the Office of Citizen Services at GSA, is our innovation test bed for it, and they are doing a tremendous amount of work exploring these tools, choosing among them, and going through the legal and the contracting work so that they are made available across the government. That is beginning to be a snowball rolling down the hill. It is gaining momentum: a lot more interest and use of those tools.

But let me be clear: Those social network tools are participation tools. They invite people to talk. A great concept – it's the bulletin board in the sky. Everybody gets to blog and talk and throw up their ideas. And I submit to you that the tools beyond that are fairly rudimentary. They are Google-based in the sense that they allow you to share all these ideas, but about all we do with them is vote on them and rank them. And that means that we are in popularity contests with respect to these ideas. I think of the participatory piece as inviting people to speak, and it creates an almost diverging experience where you collect the entire range of ideas from across all of the contributors. So it diverges, it offers up a huge scope of ideas, and we can rank and vote on them using some of these tools.

But it does not necessarily solve specific problems. It invites conversation about them, might invite ideas about them, but it doesn't solve them. And that moves us to the third part of the open government directive, which is about collaboration. As partners, I want us to be very clear about when we're participating and everybody's talking, and when we're collaborating and we're actually arriving at solutions. This is an important shift that we need to accommodate in our thinking and in our strategies. We are past the point of being shy about sharing ideas, but we are now entering this world in which we need to learn to take those ideas, sift them, sort them, analyze them, and arrive at solutions. So industry, government, we are all challenged to both develop those tools and learn to use them because the collaboration tools require governance, require a great deal of sophistication on the part of the user.

Let me just summarize this by saying as a Web 2.0 world, we are in a diverging world where a lot of ideas are shared and ranked, mostly according to popularity. We are moving into a world where we're adding an additional skill, which is to run an event in which we are converging on solutions, employing tools, governance, experts, review boards, and constructing all that we need to work together to do well.

The Open Government Directive is right in the middle of how we are thinking about ourselves at GSA. We are playing with these tools, and we invite you to share your thoughts and ideas about it. I believe we should be doing this kind of collaboration not just inside government but across all our partners. It's going to be a very interesting test of our ability to innovate past some of the concerns we have about security, some of our legal concerns, how are we going to get through this so that we can have those discussions.

We have been carrying this agenda of open government under our customer intimacy rubric. Let me talk now briefly about the sustainability agenda, which Steve mentioned. I want to give you just a frame of this because it is going to be our engine of innovation – true engine of innovation for GSA and for this government.

When the president asked us to be a significant partner in the green agenda, I think GSA was both tickled to be invited into that agenda, but we also stand tall because we have been working on sustainability for a couple of decades. Our first green roof – in fact, I believe the first green roof – was on a federal building, the Edith Green Federal Building in Portland, Oregon. And it was built 36 years ago. It has not leaked. It is still there. It is a public park. And it shows how we, in corners of GSA, have always been quite innovative, especially around sustainability.

The energy crisis of the '70s also drove GSA very hard towards finding much more energy-efficient solutions to the federal building inventory. And we are proud of the fact that we are about 22 percent more efficient in the federal building inventory than in industry and comparable industry space. That is no small achievement. And as we move forward, we are not going to be looking around for low-hanging fruit because we've already harvested it. We are going to have to push towards more innovative solutions.

That, therefore, sets us up to be quite delighted to move forward with the sustainability agenda because we're kind of on a roll. And I think that we are particularly well-positioned – aside from our enthusiasm – we're well-positioned. Why? Because we have design capabilities at GSA. We are designers. We design buildings. We design processes. We design contracts. And a lot of what the sustainability agenda will require is for us to redesign products and services, buildings, space, most of our environment.

So we have a sense about design, a sense about architecture. We are also eager to move forward in this tradition of the Edith Green Building in Portland – eager to move forward on the notion of being a proving ground. GSA's big, and we are across the government; we are across the nation. We, therefore, have large shoulders and should be able to take on some of the risk that customers would like to do but are a little but shy of doing because they don't have quite the positioning. But we can practice and try with products and services in every climate, in every altitude, in every corner of the United States. And that gives us a real chance to take on that badge of innovators and risk-takers.

The other couple of notions inside sustainability that I just want to quickly speak to are very important in the technology world. One of them is the notion of cradle to cradle. Cradle to cradle is a philosophy about how you create, design, and use products and services and buildings. It is a notion that is becoming more aware, more used, more understood, but it is truly revolutionary. Our normal approach to consumption in the government, as in the private sector, is a notion of cradle to grave. We have been an obsolescence society where it's easier to buy a new product rather than figuring out how genuinely to recycle or return a product to its home ingredients. So we are going to be exploring, understanding, learning what it means to be cradle to cradle: how do you design, how do you use, and then how do you dispose of products so that the life cycle is turned into a cycle, not a chain – moving from supply chains to supply cycles?

So that's a little bit – sort of the 40,000-foot view of the philosophy of sustainability. I also want to call forth the notion that GSA, for a couple of decades now, has been on the forefront of design excellence. That has been around our building portfolio, but it is a notion that permeates all of GSA, that we can step out and demonstrate the best and the most nuanced and sophisticated in architectural design, and that that can then translate into more popular use. It also allows the government to maintain – particularly through its building profile – a presence across the United States that shows that we are about innovation, we are about excellence, we are about sophisticated design, and that the government is truly relevant – very important notions that we at GSA feel great stewardship around and exemplify, particularly visibly with our federal buildings.

All right. So I've talked now about customer intimacy – open government. I've talked about innovation – sustainability. Now I want to talk about operational excellence. And this is your game. It is about the business of government. And our reason for being here this week is to celebrate and to lean against the challenge of building an evermore operationally excellent government through the efficiencies and effectiveness that is supported by our network services; and specifically by the new Networx contract.

There are huge benefits to government through the transition to Networx. Obviously for industry, it is about stability. And in this world, crisis and change and tremendous innovation, stable markets are a gift. I know. I've been in the private sector and understand how that can allow an organization to pay attention to its people, to nurture its environment, to focus in on building ever-better products and services. Stability is a huge value in the private sector, and we as a government through this Networx process are hoping to offer enough of that so that you can be as innovative and as supportive as we need you to be.

For agencies, Networx provides lower prices, and it answers not just the efficiency call but also the effectiveness call. But the sophisticated pricing of Networx is so dramatically better than the prices that we were able to offer in the FTS2001 contract. It's just remarkable what 10 years will get you. And I as a taxpayer and you as taxpayers can appreciate how valuable and important this is for our government. And in terms of effectiveness, there's no question that Networx provides a seamless, secure, interoperable telecom environment. And when you are working with the size and complexity of this government, finding threads by which the government has a way of connecting and understanding itself is another gift, a huge gift to the government.

We have seen, as you've heard this morning, some great progress in transition. In fact, I can show you my sheet. The number has changed as I walked around the floor last night and learned the progress on transition. We are just about at that 60 percent mark – a very good number. Sixty otherwise is not such a good number, but 60 percent is a great number. And I have to say that we applaud all the hard work that has gone into getting us to that point.

We are, at the same time, eager to keep it moving. This is not the tipping point. This is the 60 percent mark. We have a ways to go. This is a priority. This is our way to bring cutting-edge technology to the government. And we need to be aggressive about that. Networx is more than just a pricing and a mandate. Networx is about the mission of government, the mission of Social Security benefits, the mission of national security, the mission of disaster response. Getting to 100 percent will support those missions in ever-new and effective ways. Our customers need the strategies. They need the tools and the solutions that networked systems can provide.

GSA, I hope you know, stands ready to support the transition. We provide free technical, contracting, and planning support to help agencies meet their June 2011 deadlines. The theme of this conference is "partnership," and we are here to partner with you, both industry and government agencies, so that we can move the cheese on this contract. Please let us know what else we can do to help you with this. And we take this very seriously.

GSA in many ways, I think of it as a membrane. We are a membrane between industry and government. And our expertise, the health of our contracts, are about keeping that membrane healthy, vital, not brittle. And we need to serve that flow of information and agreements so that everyone can get on with their business. We take this seriously, and we hope you reach to us if you are not satisfied or need additional help. This is an important moment for moving forward on that.

And let me just mention two other things lightly touched on already, but I want to add my voice to them, about a couple other things on the GSA agenda, and these are both issues that have been around and are now expanding sort of astronomically.

The first is telework. Telework is a government term, I think. When I was in industry we talked about virtual work, about being able to work anywhere. Work is about what you do, not where you are. That notion is becoming much more important to the government. And while we have spent years operating tele-centers and having various ways in which we have tiptoed towards having genuine virtual work options, I think we are about to move forward in a dramatic way. Telework, or virtual work, is now a robust business case.

In the past, it was called up as a way to offer federal employees a more healthy work/family balance. So you could work at home, you could be a little bit more flexible about when you had to be at the workplace. But in the last short period of time, the business case for telework has just exploded. There is the sustainability argument. We have to get out of our cars. We have to find better ways in which we are getting together, making the times when we are physically together the right times, not just every day for eight hours.

There is also a security argument, and you all know about the snowstorm that happened last winter, when people couldn't get to work but they could work because they had good technology and were able to call in. I think GSA's numbers were about 60 percent – again – in terms of how many people were able to telework.

There is also a financial benefit, now that we are beginning to understand much more deeply, whereby if you can get people out of cars for a couple of hours, they are more productive, they are doing more, we are allowing our dollars to go farther. So telework is moving into our lives. Virtual workplaces are moving into our lives much more rapidly. Be prepared. I think this is something we've been playing around with for a long time, and it's now going to start moving much more dramatically.

And then the other arena of issue that I want to point out is data center portfolio. Director Orszag of the Office of Management and Budget mentioned recently that the private sector has distanced itself from the government in terms of performance around data centers. Their energy costs seemed to have hit their bottom lines ever faster, and they have moved. IBM, I understand, has reduced its data centers from 235 to 12. Hewlett-Packard, from 14 to one, and they have reduced their energy usage by 40 percent. These are dramatic numbers, and the government is about to start moving on that.

Unfortunately, we have been going in the wrong direction. Since 1998, when we had about 430 data centers, we now have over 1,100. Wrong direction. So we are in the midst of trying to think about both the behavioral issues of everyone sharing, and the actual realities of the environmental footprint and the energy costs that these are producing. And GSA will be in the middle of urging this forward. This is one of those interesting issues that combines our buildings service and our acquisition service in some new ways and with some new imperatives.

So I've touched on a number of things: open government, zero environmental footprint, networks, telework, data centers. GSA's agenda is rich, it's robust, it's a lot of fun, and I am delighted that you are our partners in engaging in these issues and many more.

I have been referring to GSA in a way that is a little bit wry, but I do believe it. In the past, we have played around with the notions of being the little engine that could, and we tried, "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can." But I know now that we know that we will. We are the big engine that will, and we look forward to working with you in the future.

Thank you very much for having me speak, and I realize I'm standing between you and getting into the showroom, so I will conclude right now. Thanks so much. (Applause.)

Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13