GSA to move policy, congressional functions under new office

The General Services Administration today officially moved its Office of Governmentwide Policy and its Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs under a new umbrella office.

GSA administrator Lurita Doan today signed the order making the proposal official, creating a new office called the Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs and Governmentwide Policy.

'We are not merging them,' said Kevin Messner, acting associate administrator of OGP. 'The two offices remain distinct and separate. This is an effort coordinate them, improve communications across regions and in GSA.'

The structure of the new office is effective today, he said.

One source, however, said the real reason behind the new office is to add a political buffer between OGP and the Office of Management and Budget.

The source said Doan is said to be uncomfortable with the close working relationship between OGP and OMB, and having someone who will have the authority to say no to OMB e-government requests is important.

The Governmentwide Policy Office, which GSA created in 1996, has played a behind-the-scenes role in a number of areas including, most prominently, e-government. OGP long has been the operational arm of OMB's Office of E-Government and IT.

Doan and Messner floated the proposal to merge the two offices earlier this month and said they would receive feedback before making any decisions.

'We sent out the proposal to every head of agency offices and services,' Messner said. 'No one was shy around here, which was good. We have received ideas, comments from a number of folks. Overall internally at GSA, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.'

Messner added that not too much changed from the proposal to the final directive. He said GSA clarified some language, but kept some basic concepts.

OGP also handles policy-making in the areas of personal and real property, travel and transportation, and regulatory information, and provides support to such federal advisory committees as the CIO Council.

Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs prepares and coordinates GSA's annual legislative program; communicates GSA's legislative program to OMB and Congress; works closely with OMB in the coordination and clearance of all proposed legislation impacting GSA and its programs; prepares comments and makes recommendations on all bills submitted by GSA to the president for final action; and initiates, coordinates and presents briefings to members of Congress and their staff on GSA programs and initiatives.

Some in industry have expressed concern over the merger, saying the two offices have different missions and goals.

'This is absolutely a non-fit,' said a former OMB official who requested anonymity. "We are talking about essentially putting an agenda of one type of policy-making and one set of interests over a structure that is meant to balance the fiscal interests and operational interests of the government.'

The official added that while there always are political interests involved with OGP, merging the two offices brings in a set of political interests that is otherwise irrelevant to small 'p' interests of the office.

Despite concerns, Messner said things will only get better, not more complicated.

'Legislation affects policy and policy could drive legislation,' he said. 'There is need to coordinate because GSA is one of the pillars of GSA management structure. This will strengthen communication.'

Messner added that because legislation, policy and regulations are tied together closely, the coordination of the three is important.

The new office also will improve communication between the regional offices and the congressional staffs and state and local governments, Messner said.


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