Departing PBS chief intends to write about government inefficiencies

Sixteen months after being named to the post, Dorothy Robyn is leaving as head of the Public Buildings Service for the General Services Administration, a job in which she inked a deal with Donald Trump for a luxury hotel and led the search for a new FBI headquarters.

Her replacement is expected to be Norman Dong, who has been serving as acting controller at the Office of Management and Budget, Robyn said.

Robyn came from the Defense Department in September of 2012 to help right the ship after a scandal over convention-related expenses brought down the GSA’s previous leadership. She oversaw public buildings during a time of tightening budgets, prompting her to press agencies to occupy less space and forgo real estate that they did not need.

She and GSA administrator Dan Tangherlini teamed to take better advantage of under-performing government buildings, completing a deal to lease the Old Post Office Pavilion to Trump’s real estate firm and selling the West Heating Plant in Georgetown to a developer affiliated with the Four Seasons.

In an interview she said she was frustrated at the resistance of Congress to invest in cost-saving infrastructure improvements, as well as the accounting policies “ that make it difficult for us to follow best practices in the private sector.”

Rather than take a new job immediately ,Robyn said she would take time off to write about some of the government inefficiencies that she said were strangling the country’s infrastructure improvements and failing to reduce energy usage.

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GSA needs more transparency over high-valued leases, report says

The Government Services Administration’s capital-planning approach lacks  transparency and strategic focus when it comes to evaluating its most high-value  leases. This hinders the agency’s ability to make informed decisions when in comes  to making those evaluations and, thereby, could result in greater costs to the  federal government.

That’s one of the conclusions of a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled “Federal Real Property: Greater Transparency and Strategic Focus Needed  for High-Value GSA Leases.”

The Obama administration has directed agencies to reduce real property costs. GAO  found that GSA has made strides in reducing its high-value lease costs, but it  also found that building ownership often is more cost-effective than leasing. This  is especially true when it comes to long-term leasing.

“GSA officials stated that for most high-value leases, federal ownership would be  more cost effective over the long term, but GSA did not have the funding available  to purchase, renovate, or construct a building,” the GAO report stated.

According to GSA’s State of the Portfolio publication, which covered fiscal year  2011, GSA had 374.6 million rental square feet in its inventory. Of that, slightly  more than half — 192.7 million square feet — was leased.

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GSA to merge operations, back off new construction

Congressional budget cuts and a recent scandal are forcing the General Services Administration to change how it does business, acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini said in an interview Wednesday (May 16, 2012).

Specifically, the agency will likely merge portions of its two main divisions — the Public Buildings Service, which manages federal buildings and building leases, and the Federal Acquisition Service, which oversees many federal contracting programs.

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GSA acting administrator to review travel policies

Just a few days after General Services Administration chief Martha Johnson stepped down amid a scandal that rocked the agency and ousted two other officials, her new replacement vowed to examine the agency’s conference and travel policies.

In an April 3 letter addressed GSA employees, Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini underlined the importance of staying focused on promoting efficiency and cost-savings following an inspector general report that revealed the agency’s lavish spending at a 2010 training event.

According to the IG, the conference cost more than $822,000, with expenses that included several “planning trips” and “test runs” in which GSA employees stayed at the luxury hotel where the event was held.

In addition to Johnson, Robert Peck, commissioner of the Public Buildings Service, and Johnson’s senior adviser Stephen Leeds were fired. In her resignation letter, Johnson acknowledged the agency had made a “significant misstep” and said she was stepping down to allow GSA to move forward with a new leadership team.

“We cannot allow mistakes or misjudgments of a small number of individuals to slow our progress or take our focus from our goals,” Tangherlini wrote in his letter. “GSA’s business is to solve customers’ problems; we are acting quickly to address them.”

Tangherlini, a former Treasury Department official, said GSA is taking immediate measures to maintain customers’ confidence in the agency. Some of those steps include reviewing upcoming conferences that involve travel and spending of taxpayers’ funds, and canceling events that pertain only to internal staff. GSA will also assess how its current policies around conference and travel policies, and improve risk management, Tangherlini said.

About the Author: Camille Tuutti is a staff writer covering the federal workforce for Federal Computer Week.  This article appeared Apr. 4, 2012 at

GSA chief’s resignation evokes sympathy, hope for reform

Federal contracting experts had mixed statements of support for former General Services Administrator Martha Johnson, who resigned April 2, with calls for urgent reform in the agency she led.

Johnson stepped down along with two senior assistants following release of an inspector general’s report detailing close to $1 million in lavish spending by GSA employees at the 2010 Western Regions Conference in Las Vegas, including contractor rule breaking.

“This is a real shame,” said Warren Suss, president of federal consultancy Suss Consulting.

“I think it’s more of a shame because of the loss [Johnson] means to the agency. In the current budgetary environment and in the current political environment, this is a time when the government needs an agency like GSA, an agency that can deliver efficiency in acquisition and can step up to its role as a central buying organization and demonstrate its value to the rest of the government.”

“My guess is this will lead to some significant reorganization and maybe to improved operational efficiency in the agency down the road. But in the near term it’s definitely a black eye for GSA,” Suss said.

Bob Guerra, partner at Guerra Kiviat Inc., said: “It’s an absurdity that the administrator of the GSA should resign over something that happened a few weeks – maybe a couple of months – after she got into her position.

“Martha has done incredible things at GSA,” he said. “The biggest issue at GSA was not whether or not they had a conference of some sort; the biggest issue at GSA was the morale, and that’s where she was concentrating. As a management executive, she was working on stabilizing the workforce, improving morale – important things that any executive does.”

“I don’t think she just upped and quit. I think what happened was she told, you’re ‘upping and quiting,’” Guerra added.

But Guy Timberlake, CEO of The American Small Business Coalitions, said he thought Johnson resigned “because it was the right thing to do.”

“I’m now looking at the trickle-down effect and how it may influence contracts for the rest of the year,” he said.

Timberlake said he is concerned about the impact this incident will have on the GSA and whether the agency will be able to fulfill its acquisition requirements for the rest of the fiscal year.

Among other items, the IG report found GSA failed to follow contracting regulations in many of the procurements associated with conferences. Other failures included disclosing a competitor’s proposal price to a favored contractor and awarding a $58,000 contract to a large business in violation of small-business set-asides.

“I’m less troubled about the ‘whys’ having to do with the procurements than I am about the ‘hows’,” said Stan Soloway, CEO and president of the Professional Services Council.

Soloway said he worries about a hair-trigger decision toward new policy changes based on “one bad job procurement.”

He said he hoped there would not be a big rush to change laws or policy.

Industry expert Mark Amtower agreed. “This is a case in point for training,” he said, adding that Johnson was an unnecessary casualty.

“I listen to rumblings of warts all the time. She didn’t have any,” he said. “She was well-respected among her employees and the industry and that’s hard to accomplish.”

Although there may be some contract policy tweaking, its effect on GSA contracting should be minimal because “this is mostly a PBS [Public Buildings Service] issue — I don’t see it becoming an FAS issue,” Amtower said.

About the Authors: David Hubler is senior editor of Washington Technology, and Alysha Sideman is the online content producer for Washington Technology.   This article appeared Apr. 3, 2012 at