Acting GSA chief says agency is gaining clout

Recovery Act implementation and green government efforts have put GSA at the forefront of the White House’s agenda.

With the economic recovery and environmental efforts high on the Obama administration's list of priorities, the General Services Administration is becoming an increasingly important agency, acting Administrator Paul Prouty told an industry group on Wednesday.

While GSA always has played a central role in federal real property management and contracting, the economic stimulus package and green government initiatives have elevated its visibility, according to Prouty.

"In the history of GSA, no administrator has sat at the table at a Cabinet meeting that we know of, and now we are," he said during the Coalition for Government Procurement conference in Arlington, Va. "Does GSA have any clout? We do have some, and it has to do with the money we got [through the Recovery Act] and the fact that our people are doing exactly what they need to be."

The agency's new stature is attracting talent, Prouty said.

"Because of the work we did on the transition and with the recovery, the political team we're getting is extraordinary," he said. "People really want to work at GSA."

Prouty laid out a number of GSA priorities, with "green, green, green" topping the list. He told the industry group that if companies have products or services tied to improving the environment, then it's a very good time for them to do business with GSA.

In leading green government efforts, GSA will be taking a number of risks and changing some of its purchasing strategies, Prouty said. Agency employees already are working with universities and companies to look into emerging technologies and cutting-edge green solutions.

"We've told Congress we're going to be trying some things that are very, very new," he said. "We're going to drive you to do some things that are progressive. Any project we're doing has a green component."

For the first time, GSA is planning to request research-and-development funding for environmental projects, information technology and other "progressive" investments. The keys, Prouty said, are to not be afraid of making a mistake or running into a dead end and to plan accordingly.

"We're not going to get it all right," he said. "We're going to be in the headlines sometimes, but government has a responsibility to do things better, especially now in these economic times."

Another priority for Prouty is strengthening GSA's relationship with its watchdogs, including its inspector general, to ensure strong but fair oversight. In the past, contracting officers were in some cases afraid of being "slammed" by overseers, but productive agency-watchdog relationships have mitigated that fear, he said.

"We've had meetings with all the oversight people and I've never seen the relationship healthier and contracting officers better positioned," he said.

Perhaps Prouty's greatest goal, however, is to be replaced as GSA's administrator quickly. Senators praised Martha Johnson, President Obama's nominee to fill the position, during her nomination hearing. But Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., is holding up her nomination over a dispute about a federal building in Kansas City.

"We are ever-hopeful we'll get Martha Johnson as administrator," Prouty said. "I'm the warm-up act. Neither of us thought it would be such a long act, but as you know there's been a little glitch in the Senate."

If confirmed, Johnson will take on contracting reform within GSA, an issue Prouty called "No. 1 on her list." While agency officials want to refine acquisition processes, doing it "on the fly" during the stimulus effort proved impossible, he noted.

"But this is our goal… we don't want to wear people out in their efforts to do business with us," he said.