Civilian Executive of the Year: John Johnson

2007 GCN Awards | After years as a GSA customer, Johnson understands both sides of the coin

Direct Talent Toward the Customer

Along with maintaining integrity and punctuality, the General Services Administration's John Johnson advises other government information technology leaders to scope out the talent within their staffs and stay focused on the needs of users.

Consolidating GSA's Federal Technology Service and Federal Supply Service required some agency soul searching, Johnson recalled. "In our efforts to cross-pollinate across different groups, we had to basically analyze the many divisions of GSA ' much like a psychologist does when asking patients to lie down on the couch,' he said.

Once an IT leader figures out how different departments or disparate units of the same staff can best work together, the lines of communication must remain open. "I have put in place a management council of my direct reports. We are active and constantly engage different parts of the agency," Johnson said.

With the troops in line, government IT employees must then remain focused on the needs of their customers and rally the IT staff around a solid time frame. "Most people probably don't realize this, but we manage our schedules to the day. We don't just commit to March. We commit to March 16 or March 18, for instance. We've gotten to the point where we can measure our activity on a daily basis. If it looks like we are not on track, we make efforts to get back within the tolerance range," Johnson said.

Should an IT staff or department veer offcourse, Johnson suggested grabbing takeout menus from the local restaurants. "There have been nights where I've seen a lot of pizza boxes outside the door, but we do try to plan ahead as much as we can," he said.

John JohnsonJohn Johnson has been on both sides of the General Services Administration's bargaining table. He spent 24 years at the Defense Department, much of that time as a GSA customer.

In his last military post, Johnson co-led the analysis team that crafted the Defense Information System Network. Before that, he sat through countless meetings with GSA, dating back to the days of FTS 2000 and the transition to FTS 2001, for which he was DOD's manager.

He brought that experience with him when he joined GSA in 2000, and said he vowed never to forget his days as one of the agency's largest customers. In his job as GSA's Federal Acquisition Service assistant commissioner for Integrated Technology Services, he's using those experiences to navigate GSA into a blended information technology organization. FAS was created two years ago by combining the Federal Technology Service and Federal Supply Service and now offers customers access to telecommunications, network and other managed services, in addition to access to products and services carried on behemoth governmentwide acquisition contracts and the voluminous GSA schedule.

"What constantly strikes me about John is that he is always out to do the right thing," said Steve Kempf, deputy assistant commissioner at ITS. "Once we decide on what exactly the right thing is, we all become thoroughly committed to getting that done. "

Part of the focus for Johnson and his staff is keeping the customer experience in mind. "This reorganization has allowed us to offer our customers a wide array of solutions to meet their needs," said Johnson, who recalls his days as a frustrated GSA customer, when the agency was unable to present a holistic set of offerings. "We can offer agencies several different channels to reach the market, and we can be more objective in the recommendations we make. We are now able to determine best how we can satisfy our customers' needs."

Johnson's experience has paid off for agency customers who look for GSA's help in making megapurchases, said John Grimes, DOD's chief information officer. "John understands both sides " DOD and GSA. He listens and remains customer-focused. He realizes that he is not buying this stuff for his own internal operations. "

Grimes pointed specifically to Johnson's recent success in shepherding GSA's Networx, a 20-year, $20 billion telecom and networking services contract. "One of John's career highlights has been his handling of the Networx contract. He understands that our business has changed to one dominated by managed services, and that we must now leverage our buying power in the commercial marketplace."

Networx not only arrived on the government IT procurement scene as a sound vehicle for purchasing networking services but also arrived on time. "This is something we have prided ourselves in doing," Johnson said. "We stuck to our dates, but in doing so, we did not let the quality suffer."

Punctuality has been a guiding principle in many of the larger contracts Johnson has handled, including Alliant and Sat-Comm II, according to GSA employees. "When we come up with a timeline, John is always saying that he is going to laminate it," Kempf said. "It's one of these things that is kind of a joke, but there is an element of seriousness to it."

Timing is important, but Johnson puts more emphasis on integrity. "I think John represents the very best of what it means to be a public servant," said Karl Krumbholz, ITS director of network services. "He tries to do the right thing and firmly believes that everything will work out if everyone is honest and working toward that goal."

So far, the approach seems to be paying off. "I am so proud when I walk the halls and realize that I have so many talented people working for me," said Johnson, who is continuing to blend the many elements of GSA's IT procurement employees.

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