GSA nominee faces Senate panel and charms 'em

Senators say nominee Martha Johnson has plenty of private-sector and government experience

Martha Johnson, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be administrator of the General Services Administration, seems to be a shoo-in for the job.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said at Johnson’s confirmation hearing today that he would work to quickly get her nomination approved by the committee and then the Senate.

He also said Obama made a wise choice in nominating her. “GSA, the president and the government need you to be at your desk,” he told Johnson.

Other senators mentioned Johnson’s qualifications and experience in the nonprofit and private sectors and the federal government, particularly as chief of staff at GSA in the 1990s when David Barram was administrator.

Johnson said she’s thrilled to go back to GSA. “‘Thrilled’ is actually a code word for me and for the agency,” she said.

Johnson said her highest priorities are to:

  • Demand, model and secure an uncompromising demonstration of ethical behavior and an organizational culture of values and trust.
  • Guarantee consistent, prompt and high-value performance for GSA’s customers.
  • Work to meet the demands of the economic stimulus law.
  • Support the Obama administration’s promise of a more transparent government.
  • Build and nurture strong leadership.

Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the committee’s ranking member, told Johnson that agencies have turned from GSA to do their own procurements because they’re skeptical of GSA's services.

“Some agencies have lost confidence in the ability of GSA to provide the best products and at the best prices and have begun to negotiate their own contracts that duplicate services offered by GSA,” Lieberman said. “That defeats the purpose of GSA.”

The wave of interagency contracts is a market gesture against GSA’s performance, Johnson said. But another major underlying issue that has driven agencies to do their own procurements is the freedom to not use GSA. Legislative changes made the 1990s, including the Clinger-Cohen Act, lifted rules that made GSA the primary source for buying certain products and services. As a result, agencies decided to take the work into their own hands. They could more tightly control and tailor contracts to suit their needs, she said.

Although the competition among contracts often brings better value and lower prices, too much overlap can have the opposite effect, Johnson said, adding that she doesn’t believe GSA should be a monolithic source for purchasing.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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