Everything Is An Opportunity

New administrator, Lurita Doan, brings energy and a small business perspective to the General Services Administration.

Sworn in on May 31, Lurita Doan took the reins at the General Services Administration at a time when it faces challenges on every front.

Earlier this year, GSA announced it would offer buyouts to 400 employees in an attempt to secure fiscal solvency. Customers have been fleeing the largely fee-funded agency, displeased with long contract processing times that stem in part from a renewed focus on regulations after investigators discovered a pattern of cutting corners at the Federal Technology Service. Relations with the Defense Department, one of GSA's largest customers, soured after the agency lost more than $1 billion when GSA returned a store of unspent prior-year money.

But Doan is optimistic that an ongoing reorganization, a renewed focus on customer service and attention to business fundamentals can set the agency back on track. Government Executive caught up with her after six weeks on the job. What follows is an edited transcript.

  • On a pilot project to work with small, local Gulf Coast businesses for disaster recovery contracts: It's such a great opportunity for GSA because these businesses that we're going to be bringing, these are going to be the most awesome teaming partners. . . . It's an incredible testament to their survival skills that they're even in business in the first place because the place is absolutely devastated, and the average, normal, everyday resources that you count on to do business with-pens, paper, computers, power-for most of them simply don't exist. They have figured out work-arounds. My feeling is these are people GSA wants to en-courage because they've been through the crucible, they know how to get things up and running, they're going to be awesome partners because they will get the job done.

  • On GSA's problems with the Defense Department: DoD is one of our customers that have indicated some dissatisfaction with us, to put it mildly. So we've had an ongoing working group to sort through the various issues and see which are justified. The ones that are, we've already gone about implementing the changes required to be in compliance with what DoD needs. . . . There are some other things, which we feel are not necessarily legitimate issues, and we've prepared our arguments according to the Federal Acquisition Regulation. We're going to have a meeting with GSA folks and DoD folks to get these problems solved.

    DoD is our largest customer, and they're very important. It's also important that we allow DoD to go back to performing in its core competencies-because procuring commodities, goods and services, technologies, that's not their core competency. They should be focusing on their larger, more mission-oriented items.

  • On Senate delays in a merger of funding for GSA's re-organized Federal Supply Service and Federal Technology Service: I was actually very appreciative of that in the short run, though in the long run, it's something we're going to be working on. I was glad to have a little bit of breathing room because the day [after] my hearing, it got out of the House, and then it was in the Senate. You haven't even been confirmed yet, and you have this huge change in your organization that you have no control over because you're not even on the job. And so I was glad to have this pause because it gave me the chance to look at the organization, to examine the strategic plan for re-organizing it and to assess the different roles and the different divisions that are going to be needed to stand up this organization successfully. You do need some time without having everything breathing down your back.

  • On GSA's fiscal solvency problems: I'm very optimistic about the future of GSA. First, because we're starting some new business lines. When you have a problem with your bottom line, which is what they're talking about, you have two ways you can solve it. You can either have top-line growth, which is increasing your revenue . . . or you can manage your expenses, and that's something I believe every business should do whether it's in the red or not. And while I don't believe that GSA is going to be living the life of Riley this year, I do believe that we will be solvent at the end of this year.

  • On measures to manage expenses: We're accelerating the speed that we turn around our invoices to customers, but sometimes it might take us as much as a year to get the bill out. That's revenue that you delay for the future, but an expense that you're booking today, and we're trying to align these more closely, and that will show an immediate improvement on our bottom line.

  • On acquisition workforce shortages and shortcomings: I think it is a business opportunity; everything is an opportunity. Maybe that's the difference between business and government: In business, a challenge is your best opportunity for a sale. When you see an obvious lack in a particular area, that is absolutely where you need to jump in. GSA is perfectly positioned to jump into that because we are the government's agency for procurement, and we do have a huge host of contracting officers located all over the United States. On any given day of the week, GSA cuts more contracts than any other government agency.

  • On retaining a top-notch contracting workforce: I think everybody wants to be on a winning team; everybody wants to know that they're valued, and I think that is one of the areas where GSA has a lot more flexibility. . . . Because we're a self-funding agency, we have the ability, just like any other business, to give bonuses and incentives for their performance, and I think we will see that is an increased attraction.

  • On cultural change: If there's only one thing that I've been working on, in the month I've been here, it's to create a culture that embraces change, and a culture that embraces entrepreneurial energy and enthusiasm, and sort of embodies the perfect customer response, the perfect ability to respond to your customer. In this first month, it's been really successful-some of these ideas are mine, but so many are actually from the employees. Every single day, I get no less than two, but some days as many as four or five, different suggestions from employees as to ways we can streamline our processes, reduce our costs, or make our customers happier by providing them with that little extension of service that will guarantee that repeat business.

    That's important for our government customers to know and for our employees to know. I also think that's important for our vendors to hear. Our vendors have their own level of frustration with GSA because sometimes they see that we're not as responsive to our customers as we could be, and they bear the brunt of that because they're interfacing with them on a regular basis.

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