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A Brief History of GSA

GSA was established by President Harry Truman on July 1, 1949, to streamline the administrative work of the federal government. GSA consolidated the National Archives Establishment, the Federal Works Agency, and the Public Buildings Administration; the Bureau of Federal Supply and the Office of Contract Settlement; and the War Assets Administration into one federal agency tasked with administering supplies and providing workplaces for federal employees. 

GSA’s original mission was to dispose of war surplus goods, manage and store government records, handle emergency preparedness, and stockpile strategic supplies for wartime. GSA also regulated the sale of various office supplies to federal agencies and managed some unusual operations, such as hemp plantations in South America.

Today, through its two largest offices – the Public Buildings Service and the Federal Acquisition Service – and various staff offices, GSA provides workspace to more than 1 million federal civilian workers, oversees the preservation of more than 480 historic buildings, and facilitates the federal  government's purchase of high-quality, low-cost goods and services from quality commercial vendors.

1950s and 1960s

In the 1950s, GSA took on a major overhaul of the White House. “Really it was more than a renovation; it was a rebuilding,” recalled inaugural Administrator Jess Larson.

GSA took on the critical assignment of emergency preparedness and began stockpiling strategic materials to be used in wartime. GSA retained various emergency management functions until they were transferred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1979.

In 1960, GSA created the Federal Telecommunications System, a governmentwide intercity telephone system. In 1962, the Ad Hoc Committee on Federal Office Space recommended a major new building program to address obsolete office buildings in Washington, D.C., resulting in the construction of many of the offices that now line Independence Avenue.

1970s and 1980s

In 1970, the Nixon administration created the Consumer Product Information Coordinating Center. Now called the Federal Citizen Information Center, FCIC has distributed millions of consumer information publications from its Pueblo, Colo. facility.

Authorized in 1971, the Federal Buildings Fund became operational in 1974 when GSA issued its first rent bills to federal agencies. In 1972, GSA established the Automated Data and Telecommunications Service, which evolved into the Office of Information Resources Management 10 years later.

GSA also became involved in administrative policy issues. In 1973, GSA created the Office of Federal Management Policy. GSA’s Office of Acquisition Policy centralized procurement policy in 1978. In 1985 GSA began to provide governmentwide policy oversight and guidance for federal real property management as a result of an Executive Order signed by President Ronald Reagan.

In 1984, GSA introduced the federal government to the use of charge cards. Today, the GSA SmartPay program has more than 3 million card holders. In 1987, GSA opened its first child care center, and now manages 110 federal child care facilities for more than 8,300 children across the country.

By 1995, all of GSA's policy functions had been merged into the Office of Government-wide Policy, which sets policy in the areas of personal and real property, travel, transportation, information technology, regulatory information, and use of federal advisory committees.

1990s

Inspired by the "Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture," written in 1962 by the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, in 1994 GSA's Public Building Service  introduced the Design Excellence Program to streamline the way it selects architects and engineers for major construction projects. The program has resulted in outstanding and enduring examples of federal architecture.

In 1995, GSA formed the Courthouse Management Group to manage the largest courthouse construction project in 50 years. The project has resulted in the renovation or rebuilding of federal courthouses across the nation.

2000s

As the agency transformed itself to enter the 21st century, GSA embraced new technologies, launched electronic government initiatives, and helped develop means of doing government business on the Internet.

In the1990s, GSA developed GSA Advantage!™, an online portal for federal employees to purchase services and equipment through GSA. In September 2000, GSA launched FirstGov.gov to simplify public access to government information and services.

In 2001, GSA assumed responsibility for President George W. Bush’s E-Gov InitiativesE-AuthenticationE-Gov TravelFederal Asset Sales, and the Integrated Acquisition Environment.

In July 2002, GSA established the Office of Citizen Services and Communications (now called the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies) to manage its citizen-centered activities in a single organization. The Office of Citizen Services enabled state and local governments, the public, businesses, and the media to interact with the federal government online, via email, telephone, fax, or print. 

After having merged the Information Technology Service and the Federal Telecommunication Service into the Federal Technology Service in the 1990s, GSA consolidated FTS into the Federal Acquisition Service in 2007 to better align the delivery of its services in an ever-changing business world.

In 2007, GSA changed the name of the federal government portal from FirstGov.gov to USA.gov. With redesigned navigation, USA.gov makes it easier for the public to get U.S. government information and services on the web. Also in 2007, GSA launched GobiernoUSA.gov, which makes federal, state and local government information and services more accessible to those who speak Spanish.

This new use of technology came as GSA was returning to one of its original functions – emergency preparedness. In November 2006, GSA established the Office of Emergency Response and Recovery {now called the Office of Mission Assurance} to better assist the country during national disasters.

To comply with President Bush's National Continuity Policy, in 2007, GSA implemented  the National Continuity Policy Implementation Plan to ensure the timely recovery of the executive branch from any operational interruption and provide a centralized procurement system for all department and agencies.

In 2009, a new Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies was created to foster public engagement by using innovative technologies to connect the public to government information and services.

A 2009-2010 milestone was the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act efforts. With the goal of transforming federal buildings into higher performing, greener buildings, GSA awarded billions in Recovery Act construction funding to more than 500 companies in all 50 states, two territories and the District of Columbia. Here is the breakdown of Recovery Act dollars spent:

  • $4.5 billion: Federal building conversion to high-performance green spaces
  • $750 million: Federal building and courthouse renovations
  • $300 million: Fuel-efficient vehicles
  • $300 million: Land ports of entry renovation and construction

GSA’s 2010 Sustainability Plan sets an agency goal for a zero environmental footprint and a 30 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by greening the federal supply chain and creating sustainable innovation within its building portfolio.

In 2010, GSA became the first federal agency to move email to a cloud-based system to reduce inefficiencies and lower costs by 50 percent over the next five years.

President Barack Obama’s Open Government Directive instructed federal agencies to actively open their operations to the public. To that end, GSA developed Data.gov, a website to foster democracy, information sharing, and transparency.

The list of GSA citizen-focused websites and social media outreach efforts continued to grow and by 2010 included a Social Media Directory and the following websites:

  • USA.gov, the official portal of the U.S. government
  • GobiernoUSA.gov, the Spanish-language counterpart to USA.gov
  • GovGab.gov, a blog that showcases the usefulness, practicality helpfulness, and vitality of federal, state, and local government information
  • Pueblo.gsa.gov, providing public access to hundreds of the best federal publications
  • Consumeraction.gov, a consumer help site built around FCIC's popular Consumer Action Handbook
  • Consumidor.Gov, the Spanish-language counterpart to consumeraction.gov
  • Kids.gov, a portal to government websites designed especially for children
  • Apps.gov, a portal for government to access cloud, productivity, business, and social media technology
  • Notifications.USA.gov a real-time search of government notifications so the public can follow government news — by email, text message, or RSS feed.
  • Challenge.gov, a public engagement platform.

In 2010, GSA began modernizing its 60-year-old headquarters building in Washington, D.C., which, when completed, will be a model of sustainability and government efficiency.

In 2012 – for the seventh year in a row – GSA was named to the Top 10 Best Places to Work in Federal Government by the Partnership for Public Service.