GSA chief's resignation evokes sympathy, hope for reform

Federal contracting experts had mixed statements of support for former General Services Administrator Martha Johnson, who resigned April 2, with calls for urgent reform in the agency she led.

Johnson stepped down along with two senior assistants following release of an inspector general’s report detailing close to $1 million in lavish spending by GSA employees at the 2010 Western Regions Conference in Las Vegas, including contractor rule breaking.

“This is a real shame,” said Warren Suss, president of federal consultancy Suss Consulting.

“I think it’s more of a shame because of the loss [Johnson] means to the agency. In the current budgetary environment and in the current political environment, this is a time when the government needs an agency like GSA, an agency that can deliver efficiency in acquisition and can step up to its role as a central buying organization and demonstrate its value to the rest of the government.”

“My guess is this will lead to some significant reorganization and maybe to improved operational efficiency in the agency down the road. But in the near term it’s definitely a black eye for GSA,” Suss said.

Bob Guerra, partner at Guerra Kiviat Inc., said: “It’s an absurdity that the administrator of the GSA should resign over something that happened a few weeks – maybe a couple of months – after she got into her position.

“Martha has done incredible things at GSA,” he said. “The biggest issue at GSA was not whether or not they had a conference of some sort; the biggest issue at GSA was the morale, and that’s where she was concentrating. As a management executive, she was working on stabilizing the workforce, improving morale – important things that any executive does.”

“I don’t think she just upped and quit. I think what happened was she told, you’re ‘upping and quiting,’” Guerra added.

But Guy Timberlake, CEO of The American Small Business Coalitions, said he thought Johnson resigned “because it was the right thing to do."

"I'm now looking at the trickle-down effect and how it may influence contracts for the rest of the year," he said.

Timberlake said he is concerned about the impact this incident will have on the GSA and whether the agency will be able to fulfill its acquisition requirements for the rest of the fiscal year.

Among other items, the IG report found GSA failed to follow contracting regulations in many of the procurements associated with conferences. Other failures included disclosing a competitor's proposal price to a favored contractor and awarding a $58,000 contract to a large business in violation of small-business set-asides.

"I'm less troubled about the 'whys' having to do with the procurements than I am about the 'hows'," said Stan Soloway, CEO and president of the Professional Services Council.

Soloway said he worries about a hair-trigger decision toward new policy changes based on "one bad job procurement."

He said he hoped there would not be a big rush to change laws or policy.

Industry expert Mark Amtower agreed. "This is a case in point for training," he said, adding that Johnson was an unnecessary casualty.

"I listen to rumblings of warts all the time. She didn't have any," he said. "She was well-respected among her employees and the industry and that's hard to accomplish.”

Although there may be some contract policy tweaking, its effect on GSA contracting should be minimal because "this is mostly a PBS [Public Buildings Service] issue -- I don't see it becoming an FAS issue," Amtower said.

About the Authors

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

Alysha Sideman is the online content producer for Washington Technology.

Reader Comments

Wed, Apr 4, 2012 Amtower

J Schrekman does not know much about some of the the "sources" or what they say or do in the market. Over the past 30 years I have offended many people in the government market- govies and contractors alike. My goal, like those of Stan Soloway and Guy Timberlake, is to point out the good, the bad and the ugly, and I have done so frequently. Mr Timberlake and Mr Soloway have both been known to rock the boat as well.

Wed, Apr 4, 2012

The GSA like any government agency is representing us the taxpayers and spending money we trust them to use wisely. Hopefully this will be a lesson to others.

Wed, Apr 4, 2012 fritz

The lack of accountability by the GSA matches the overspending by the USPS brass remodeling their offices without guilt. The USPS has suffered red ink for years and the larger majority of their budget is spent for retirement benefits. The lack of promotion of USPS services resulted in a cash flow problem and what was the first thing the brass did was remodel their offices, Somethings will never change in government becsuse the lefthand doesnt know what the right hand is doing. The IG needs more teeth it seems

Wed, Apr 4, 2012 Lance Winslow California, Palm Desert

I would say that we need to be careful not to allow knee-jerk reactions based on media events, social networks, or critique of the week to disrupt government. These things happen in the military too, we hang out to dry capitans, commanders, and demote great Americans because the media ran with a story and blew it out of proportion. If we allow such things to occur, no one will feel safe or backed-up, right now that's happening in our schools too, with administrators not backing up the teachers during diplinary events. Once trust is lost the chain of command breaks down. That's one of the challenges with a populist style leadership motif. Making examples of people everytime the media drums up controversy - well, that happens everyday, thus, no one is safe, this only causes folks to fear doing anything, that's no way to run a government, business or any organization, please consider all this.

Wed, Apr 4, 2012

The problem is management in government are protecting their friends, do you really believe that management doesn't know what's going on. They've been told and they are ignoring it.

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