On turning 50, GSA celebrates rebirth

On turning 50, GSA celebrates rebirth

The Hoover Commission

Five decades after its creation, the agency is doing more with less and looking ahead to reinvention

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

When 16-year-old Nancy Potter started work at the General Services Administration, she tapped out forms and letters on a manual Remington typewriter. Fifty years later, the deputy budget director uses Lotus Notes on her Dell OptiPlex GX1 PC loaded with 64M of RAM.

Times have changed, she said earlier this month during a ceremony celebrating GSA's 50th anniversary.

GSA has seen a flood of change since it was created on June 30, 1949, upon the recommendation of a presidential commission chaired by former President Herbert Hoover. Change has been especially swift in recent years as Administrator David J. Barram has worked to transform the agency into a more service-oriented organization.

National broadcast

The anniversary celebration took place in the mammoth atrium of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in downtown Washington. Ringing the room were signs representing GSA's divisions: Public Buildings Service, Federal Supply Service, Federal Technology Service, Office of Governmentwide Policy, Staff Offices and National Capital Region. The event was carried live to GSA offices around the country by satellite and Web broadcast.

The ceremony was for the anniversary, but it was also in part a celebration of GSA's reinvention, as the agency has risen from the brink of closure just a few years ago.

'Today's GSA is not your father's GSA,' Barram said, repeating what has become his mantra. 'The GSA of the 21st century will be built on the shoulders of today's GSA.' And tomorrow's GSA will be turned over to a new generation riding a powerful wave of change, he said.

'They know, if not consciously they know instinctively, that the most important skill is the ability to adapt to change,' he said. 'We know that change isn't an abstract anymore. It applies to all of us, and at GSA we are changing, and people are noticing.'

Fifty years after its inception, GSA is a much leaner operation that has had to learn to do more with less. In 1950, GSA employed 23,975 people. Today it has 14,044 workers.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said GSA has led the way as government has jumped into the information revolution. 'GSA has accomplished its mission because they have attracted individuals who are not afraid to try something new,' he said.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, 'How very proud I hope you are, and you ought to be because you build the infrastructure of the best government in the world.'

Barram said, 'The mission of our agency has not changed in the course of half a century: We provide for federal employees. Fifty years ago, we actually bought products and services for them and supplied traditional workspaces. Today we negotiate the contracts that let them choose for themselves the best values from among 4 million products and services.'

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