After a 32-year career as a public servant – the past 14 spent primarily at the General Services Administration – Bev Godwin, director of GSA’s Federal Citizen Information Center, formally announced her retirement on Thursday.
Godwin built a stellar reputation in government as a technology expert and champion of innovation throughout her career, helping create two of the government’s most important public-facing efforts to date: Challenge.gov and USA.gov, both of which won prestigious Innovation in Government awards.
Godwin also spent eight years at the White House as deputy director of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, leading numerous intergovernmental innovation teams and 1,400 change agents who rotated in and out from various agencies at a time when the government was just getting its feet wet with the Internet.
Godwin’s final day will be May 2. She plans to take some time off before finalizing her next move.
“I’m looking forward to this being the best phase of my life,” Godwin told Nextgov. “I will work again part-time. I still have some passion to do things for the good of the country.”
In an email to GSA staff, Dave McClure, associate administrator for the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies – who recently announced his own retirement – praised Godwin’s work.
“In all of these endeavors, Bev has been at the forefront of change, innovation and emerging technologies, using her skills and passion to better serve the American public,” McClure said.
McClure tapped Sarah Crane to step in as acting director of the Federal Citizens Information Services Center after May 2, and GSA will permanently fill Godwin’s vacated position through a governmentwide senior executive service hiring and selection process.
Interestingly, Godwin came to government in 1982 without an iota of technology experience, becoming a Presidential Management Intern at the Health and Human Services Department in 1982. By 1992, she’d become branch chief of HHS’ budget office, overseeing the analysis, policies, regulation and staffing for $40 billion’ worth of programs.
Godwin left HHS for a White House position in 1993 where her technology acumen began to grow.
“All of us started working on technology, it was the beginning of the Internet,” Godwin said. “There was the realization that technology could change government, and government service could be very different. I don’t think, though, that any of us saw this far down the road.”
The government’s Internet efforts were best described as the “wild, wild west” in the early 1990s, Godwin said, and she helped bring about a more ordered exchange of information between the public and government.
The precursor to USA.gov, then called FirstGov, launched to a trickle of web traffic in 2000 when most Americans were still using dial-up Internet connections and floppy-disk drives. Today, that same Web traffic has grown to about 65 million visitors a year, and even that is dwarfed now by interactions between the government’s social media accounts and public citizens. Godwin’s fingerprints are all over those efforts, too, helping negotiate federal-compatible terms of service with tech companies like YouTube and Facebook so the government could make use of them. Instead of each agency negotiating individually with social media platform providers, GSA does the heavy lifting between the parties’ attorneys to ensure all the government’s legal requirements are met, essentially giving agencies a “blessing from GSA” to choose among approved platforms.
She’s also particularly proud of her role in developing Challenge.gov, the platform that now allows government agencies to crowdsource innovation. Her efforts were particularly bold in the Beltway community: In the request for proposal she authored for Challenge.gov, Godwin requested a free product. After some criticism – “Nobody thought anyone would bid,” Godwin said – eight proposals came through and Challenge.gov ultimately went from concept to reality in 60 days, with no money due to a contractor. To date, Challenge.gov has crowdsourced 300 projects.
A line on Godwin’s resume reads that she “knows how to get things done in government.”
It’s not a boast if you can back it up. And over more than three decades, she’s certainly more than backed up those words, using the skills she developed early in career – budgeting and networking – with the technology know-how and determined grit she cultivated as the government transitioned to the digital age.
“Getting to know people was key, I always knew who to call in every agency, and I learned not to not always take ‘No’ for an answer,” Godwin said. “There are many ways to get things done differently, and the best people in government have figured out those ways.”