GSA building its brand as government’s consulting agency

Administrator Martha Johnson explains how the agency is taking on a more facilitative and advice-driven role.

Maybe the General Services Administration should consider changing its name to the General Consulting Agency.

Faced with a host of new green buildings regulations, and driven by the steep governmentwide budget crunch, federal agencies are frequently turning to GSA for help on making their dollar go further, according to agency Administrator Martha Johnson.

During a press briefing on Tuesday at the annual Interagency Resources Management Conference, Johnson explained that GSA's expertise in the complicated acquisition process, building management, sustainable products and energy-efficient vehicles has created a growing demand from its government customers.

"We are embracing the role of facilitator and getting close to our clients in new ways," Johnson said during a morning conference call. "Agencies are coming to us and asking for help in scrubbing their procurements to see where they might have more opportunities. . . . We are doing more of that work, which puts us as more of a consulting, facilitating expert and setting up clients to be smarter shoppers."

For years, GSA has offered assisted acquisition services to its customers, helping agencies with complicated procurements. They now have expanded those services to include more-general procurement analysis, helping agencies determine whether they are spending their contracting dollars efficiently, Johnson said.

"Our customers are in budget squeezes and they need cheaper ways to buy," she said.

The agency also is taking a lead role on a number of governmentwide initiatives, including implementing White House requirements for sustainable procurements, green building design, telework and testing a fleet of hybrid vehicles, Johnson said.

Similarly, GSA is playing the role of governmentwide facilitator, bringing together other agencies for cooperative discussions on topics such as reforming the Federal Acquisition Regulation, or better utilizing strategic sourcing.

"GSA is helping agencies come together in a buying cooperative mechanism," Johnson said. "It keeps GSA from being the mandated source. You get the benefits of the buying power of the government without being in a monopolistic way."

The agency is taking some of its frugal advice to heart, cutting its travel spending and other discretionary items to prepare for the budgetary unknowns. "We are in limbo like everybody else," Johnson said, "trying on a daily basis to be sensible. We have a half a year to get through and we have to be . . . economic about that."

The administrator also noted GSA is spending significant resources to upgrade its Multiple Acquisition Schedules, which she said are in need of a "facelift" to become more customer-friendly.