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Johnson Tells IRMCO Audience GSA Has the Will

Johnson Tells IRMCO Audience GSA Has the Will

As Prepared for Delivery.

Remarks by
Martha N. Johnson
U.S. General Services Administration
Interagency Resources Management Conference (IRMCO)
Cambridge, MD
April 11, 2010

Thank you, Michael (Robertson), for that wonderful introduction. I’m so happy to see many friends and colleagues, customers and partners in one beautiful location. And I look forward this week to meeting those I don’t know.

In his welcome, Michael spoke of the importance of public service. IRMCO is a special annual event dedicated to government leaders. It’s among the rare opportunities we have to be together in one place, to share, to discuss, to debate, and to solve problems. My kids would call it swarming. And although we only do it occasionally, the truth is that in the new world that is upon us, this is the way we must work all the time: networking, sharing, swarming. It’s the new face of public sector leadership.

But, now that you are all here in person, let me bend your ear for a few minutes and talk about an organization, a mission, and a community of people that I am passionate about, namely the U.S. General Services Administration.

Created under Harry S. Truman, GSA has been a central agency, one that offers you, our government customers, consolidated and centralized buying power, expertise, perspective, and policy. That seems like a valid notion, one that should sensibly persist over time.

But that is where we all run into trouble. We can’t ever assume that things should or could stay the same. And, this is especially true for behemoths such as GSA.

And so, today, my remarks are going to be about a transformation at GSA, a transformation of GSA. To begin, I have started to call GSA the “big engine that will.”

The transformation story starts this way: GSA’s mission is to support its client agencies so that they can focus squarely on their core missions.

Yet, our customers need to fulfill their missions in today’s world. Not the world of yesterday or last November or two years ago ... Today’s world.

GSA obviously won’t succeed if we aren’t seizing change ourselves.

Let me start with our new mission statement. Listen up because you will hear some new language and new emphasis:

GSA's mission is to use expertise to provide innovative solutions for our customers in support of their missions and by so doing foster an effective, sustainable, and transparent government for the American people.

Let me put it this way: GSA is deliberately casting itself as the government’s change agent. How cool is that! Our mission is, pure and simple, to change government. We believe that steering innovation for our customers creates a Rube Goldberg effect. Our expertise powers innovation with our customers … which in turn strengthens their work … which helps them meet their mission goals … so that our government overall is ever smarter, more viable, more capable, and more open.

This is both sensible and sensational.

This is what I came back into government to do. It’s why I waited so patiently and long for this job.

Stepping back into government, there are several things I have noticed:

First, 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 in February that shut down the government? (I’m from North Dakota – so I can call them little flurries) 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 while standing in my kitchen. Work is what you do, not where you are
- So let me ask those of you in this room, are you teleworking? Let me see a show of hands of those who telework regularly … at least one day a week. How about those who telework occasionally?
- For those of you who didn’t raise their hands, why are you not teleworking? Are you in love with the 1980’s for some reason?
- But this is important … we need to know what is standing in the way. Is it technology? Or is it culture?

Second, the workplace footprint is changing. Our carbon and geographic footprints are merging. To get a handle on this we have started baselining. You are probably aware that the government is 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.

Third, as the workplace is changing, so is the work itself.
- 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.
- 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.
- In addition, Clinger-Cohen retagged GSA as a non-mandatory 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 workplace footprint is changing. The work itself is changing.

This will be good for government, for GSA, and for you and your agencies.

How will GSA fold into all this as a change agent for our government customers? How can we help you move forward as the world shifts beneath our collective feet? How can we be the Big Engine that Will?

My way of thinking about this is rather simple … GSA has learned to play in the market. Clinger-Cohen gave us that hunting license. After a dozen plus years of building market savvy and muscle, GSA now 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. GSA has grown from $35 to $65 billion in business volume since I left -- $95 billion if you consider the volume that flows through on the credit cards. Now, imagine GSA doubling in size. What if we were at the $200 billion mark! 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.

The first of these is 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 for growth could be market change:
- There are significant and specific pockets of market expansion where we could help: Think Veteran’s Administration, or health care information.

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. I believe GSA has the will to be the Big Engine that Will.
- If GSA ups its game, I am confident that GSA’s business will grow.

Performance improvement is something we’ve all been hacking at for years. How could we expect that GSA could double its business through performance improvement? For me, there’s no mystery.

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.
• That’s 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 the public and stakeholders using 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
- Early adoption of the internet.

But, innovation creates risk.
- 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 YouTube 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 in our federal buildings and courthouses.
- 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.

But let’s be clear … taking risks also means that failure will occur. Remember the line in “Apollo 13” when Ed Harris, playing the incomparable Gene Krantz, proclaims “failure is not an option!”? Well in our world, failure is not only an option, it is required.

The trick is to fail fast, learn from the mistakes made, and move forward.

I’m the first to admit that a significant cultural shift is required when it comes to risk, not only within GSA, but throughout government. GSA will have to stare down its own anxieties about risk. But, for me, this is about courage and leadership. I work for a president who has great courage and leadership. That is what is needed and that is what we are here to do. I intend to stand tall with GSA as we learn, make mistakes, grow, flourish, and meet our mission.

Third, thanks to the Obama administration, we have the arena to demonstrate innovation. If NASA had the moon shot and DARPA 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.

Sustainability is in our work plan going forward.

- We will drive data center consolidation.
- We will drive greener, more efficient and secure I.T. solutions.
- We will drive the development of a greenhouse gas tracking and management tool and provide it free to agencies.
- We will drive greening throughout the supply chain.

Sustainability will drive everything we do: exposing waste, recognizing full value and costs, calling on us to be full citizens of the world, and therefore, transforming us.

Turning to open government … which is three things: transparency, participation, and collaboration. Let me focus here on collaboration, which I believe we should label “collective intelligence”

So, we’ve talked about two of the three things that can transform GSA’s performance. The first was customer intimacy which can be boosted by transparency. The second was innovation which can be boosted by sustainability and open government. The third rail for growth at GSA is to boost our 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 1970s. 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 most importantly, as a steward of the federal worker and the federal workspace.

I believe the people of GSA – all GSA – including our acquisition, contracting, and 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, all can up our game.

You see, it is you – our customers – that will pull us to reverse engineer our processes 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.

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.

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

I have an “ask” of you:
- 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.

I have placed several concepts on the table tonight. Use this special week here at IRMCO to share, to discuss, and to debate these concepts. I’m here through Tuesday; several of my colleagues are here for the duration. Let us know what you think. And Challenge us to be the Big Engine that Will.

Thank you.

Read news release: GSA Recognizes Innovation Across Government with IRMCO Awards


Last Reviewed: 2018-03-29