General Services Administration, United States
The General Services Administration (GSA) is one of the three central management agencies of the federal government, along with the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget. It affects almost $66 billion in federal spending, or about a quarter of total procurement dollars at the government's disposal, and manages assets collectively valued at almost $500 billion. Its mission is to support federal employees by securing the buildings, equipment, and property they need.
Early roles. GSA was the result of a study conducted in the 1940s by a commission under the direction of President Herbert Hoover. Charged with developing a means to enhance the effectiveness of administrative services provided by the federal government, the Hoover Commission recommended that the government disband four small agencies and consolidate them into a single large office. The result was GSA, created by the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act, which President Harry S. Truman signed into law on July 1, 1949.
The functions of the early GSA included many retained by the agency today, as well as others that have either fallen by the wayside or been transferred to other parts of the federal government. It oversaw emergency management functions that were transferred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 1979; kept national archives that were moved to the National Archives and Records Administration in 1985; and stockpiled strategic materials that would be in short supply during wartime, a function given over to the Department of Defense in 1988.
GSA and government infrastructure. GSA in the early years also had a number of exotic roles, including management of hemp plantations in South America. On the other hand, the first two decades of GSA's life also saw the introduction of operations that would become integral to its mission over the years that followed. In 1954, GSA established the first federal motor pool, and in 1959 created the Federal Procurement Regulation System. In the early 1960s GSA—which in 1957 had been the first federal agency to use the term "telecommunication system"—initiated the federal intercity telecommunications system.
In 1962, a GSA committee recommended to President John F. Kennedy that a number of government buildings in Washington, D.C., needed to be updated or replaced, and thus began a massive federal construction program. Ten years later, in 1972, GSA established the Federal Buildings Fund to pay for the maintenance, operation, renovation, and construction of federal buildings through the rental income paid to GSA by federal tenants.
One of the most visible aspects of GSA as it relates to the public appeared in 1970, with the establishment of the Consumer Information Center, whose many pamphlets and television commercials made its Pueblo, Colorado, distribution center famous around the country. In 1972, the agency created its Automated Data and Telecommunications Service, today known as the Federal Technology Service. GSA in 1984 began issuing its own credit cards, which federal employees use for small work-related purchases, as well as travel expenses. GSA opened its first child care center in 1987, and by the beginning of the twenty-first century managed some 111 centers in which 7,600 children of government employees were cared for while their parents worked—often in the same building.
Beginning with the creation of the Office of Federal Management Policy in 1973, GSA acquired a number of policymaking functions, which in 1995 were consolidated in the Office of Government-wide Policy. GSA in the 1990s was a leading proponent of new technology and practices, encouraging the use of telecommuting and introducing government employees to both the Internet and intranets.
GSA today. Among the most important of GSA's functions is its role in new government construction, which gained an added security dimension in the wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings. As a result, GSA undertook a series of studies directed toward ensuring increased security for buildings. By the time of the 2001 terrorist incidents, GSA had begun to put some of these recommendations into place. For example, the portion of the Pentagon damaged by terrorists on September 11, 2001 had been recently remodeled with new measures in mind, a factor that probably saved a number of lives.
In its Design Excellence Program, GSA has worked with a number of leading architects from the private sector on public buildings ranging from courthouses—it has built or renovated court facilities in some 160 locations since the mid-1990s—to the Ronald Reagan Building and the International Trade Center. GSA also manages security in many of the more than 8,300 government-owned or -leased buildings it manages.
Today GSA controls a fleet of some 170,000 vehicles, and manages information technology products ranging from laptop computers to vast computer systems. The majority of its operating funds come from rental of the products, services, and properties it provides, and only one percent of its budget comes through congressional appropriations.
█ FURTHER READING:
U.S. Government Printing Office. Portals and Related Matters: Evidence Warranting Further Action by Federal
Enforcement Authorities. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1999.
Ballard, Tanya N. "Horror, then a Helping Hand." Government Executive 33, no. 13 (October 2001): 12–14.
Grant, Peter. "Plots & Ploys." Wall Street Journal. (December 26, 2001): B4.
"RAMPART Assesses Threats." Signal 56, no. 1 (September 2001): 7.
Williams, Krissah. "U.S. Seeks to Build Secure Online Network." Washington Post. (October 11, 2001): A10.
General Services Administration. < http://www.gsa.gov/ > (February 23, 2003).