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GSA Turns 50 Forging Alliance of Old and Innovative, Managing More With Less

GSA # 9593

June 30, 1999
Contact: Peg Strain (202) 501-1231

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Fifty years ago, the General Services Administration was born amid President Harry S. Truman's administration and on July 1 agency employees and dignitaries will celebrate half a century of providing the tools and resources for 2.8 million federal workers to get the job done every day with cutting competitive edge.

The General Services Administration is leaner, more competitive and more adept at meeting the changing needs of the federal workforce at its 50-year mark. But its mission remains the same as when Truman inked the 1949 order launching the agency's mission "to provide expertly managed space, products, services and solutions, at the best value, and policy leadership, to enable federal employees to accomplish their missions."

Rosamond Cardreon of Rosewood, Calif., and Nancy Potter of Arlington, Va., were two of nearly 14,000 General Services Administration employees nationwide who commemorated the day with motley memories, slabs of sheet cake and a satellite hook-up for employees from New England to the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Rim. The two were honored for their loyalty to and longevity with the agency. They have worked for the GSA since the agency first opened its doors in post-war 1949. Four other employees with 40 years or more of experience will also be honored at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

Administrator Dave Barram said, "GSA's 50th anniversary celebration is a tribute to the men and women who have served the agency over the last half century. Their dedication and commitment to excellence in customer service have enabled GSA to effectively carry out is mission. Their legacy is the foundation for the great work GSA will do in the coming century."

In a message from President Bill Clinton, the agency was lauded "because even in a time of leaner budgets and smaller staffs, you have improved service to the public, forged effective partnerships with communities and private businesses and discarded outdated management systems."

Known as "the bellweather agency for reinventing government," during the last decade, the agency has championed telecommuting centers, Internet electronic commerce through GSA Advantage¿ and savvy service in support of the Bureau of the Census. The agency has been at the forefront of introducing new workplace concepts to the civilian federal government from onsite child care to establishing consumer-friendly IRS mall storefronts as an accessible aid for taxpayers in an experimental California program.

The GSA's primary mission is to save money for taxpayers. About 94 percent of its budget is devoted to managing private-sector contractors. Federal agencies then may choose the best value from among some 4 million products and services from leasing or building office space to restoration of aging U.S. federal buildings to providing telecommunications for people with hearing or speech disabilities. It has metamorphosed from a mandatory supplier to a competitively priced source of space and supplies.

Notably, the agency has been honored for the best design in contemporary architecture and the GSA has commissioned art through its Art-in-Architecture program and collaborates with the National Endowment for the Arts. The scope and grandeur of the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, which was once a parking lot, is but one example. Restoration also is a critical function performed by the agency. For example, in Washington the historic Oscar S. Straus Memorial Fountain, installed adjacent to 14th Street in 1947 was removed, restored and rebuilt close to its original location.

The General Service Administration's origins were in the 1947 Hoover Commission, which recommended establishment of an independent office to assume existing responsibilities of the Treasury Department's Bureau of Federal Supply, the National Archives, the Public Buildings Administration and the War Assets Administration.

Today the agency has employees in 11 regions in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Kansas City, Atlanta, Chicago, Fort Worth, San Francisco, Auburn, Wash., and the National Capital Region and central headquarters in downtown Washington. The GSA is comprised of the Public Building Service, the Federal Supply Service, the Federal Technology Service and the Office of Governmentwide Policy.

The Public Building Service leases, constructs, renovates and manages office space for federal agencies and federal district offices for congressional members. It also provides security services, childcare facilities, telecommuting centers and property disposal.

The Federal Supply Service provides agencies with the means to purchase four million items by automated ordering, the Internet, mail or telephone. It leases vehicles at low cost and provides discounted, no-restriction airfares and lodging for federal travelers. It also disposes of surplus federal property through transfers among agencies, donations and sales.

The third Service is the Federal Technology Service, which provides low-cost local and long-distance telecommunications, information technology solutions and support.

The GSA also contains an Office of Governmentwide Policy, which coordinates strategy development for acquisition, information technology, real estate, transportation and personal property affecting federal agencies and advisory committees.

Today the agency is doing more with less. GSA has pared down from more than 38,000 employees in 1974 to just over 14,000 today, who are giving their federal brethren more bang for the buck in a more open system.

The agency has drawn grins and occasionally raised eyebrows because of its pace setting. The GSA gives "giraffe awards for people who have stuck out their necks." It was the first U.S. agency to designate a "Chief People Officer" (read personnel) and was one of the first agencies in government to designate a "Chief Knowledge Officer," to enable employees to more readily share skills and interests, originally a position that was the brainchild of corporations.

The agency has evolved from a perception of stodgy, old-fashioned bureaucracies. Barram emphasizes the agency has added exceptional value to its goods and services and says GSA is in the business of "thrilling customers" with its savvy and ingenuity.