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GSA chief says agency will 'up its game' with technology

032510johnsonNGins Administrator Martha Johnson calls GSA government's "change agent."Liz Lynch/National Journal

The General Services Administration will leverage technology solutions to better serve federal agencies, Martha Johnson, GSA's top executive, said on Thursday.

GSA, which currently accounts for 13 percent of federal spending, could increase its sales if it were allowed to open its schedules to state and local jurisdictions or expand into new markets such as health information technology, Johnson said in a speech at FOSE, a government technology conference and security expo in Washington.

But if the agency is going to expand, it must change its internal business practices such as improving the flow of data and information to boost performance, she added. "What is in our hands is the whole notion of upping our performance and performing better for our clients -- being more responsive, helping people find what they need more quickly and understanding where they can get the best value for the right price," she told reporters after her speech.

"If GSA ups its game, its business will grow," she said.

Johnson stressed that technology enables collaboration through collective intelligence or social media tools to harness expertise and solve problems. The technologies exist, but government still needs to work out how best to use them to communicate ideas, she said.

GSA on Thursday launched two pilots for its Better Buy Project, a collaborative forum that collects ideas for improving the federal acquisition process. The first uses a wiki and other social media tools to collect comments and questions on how to improve data storage and hosting on Data.gov. The second solicits feedback on the infrastructure of a new hosting environment called Clearpath.

The agency is involved in several IT areas, according to Johnson. Its Office of Citizen Services is exploring social media and helping agencies purchase the right applications. Such a focus has led to agencies having posted 85 YouTube channels and 80 Facebook pages, she said. GSA officials also believe cloud computing could boost the value of IT and hope to quickly improve the government's legacy IT infrastructure.

Each technology solution involves green IT, Johnson added, and GSA will continue to pursue data center consolidation and more efficient technology solutions.

Johnson also highlighted the importance of collaborating with industry and other agencies such as GSA's partnership with the Office of Personnel Management to give federal employees the tools and guidance they need to telework. Technology has been an enabler for telework, she said.

GSA no longer serves as the sole supplier of goods and services to government, so it will be a challenge to meet its goal of growth, she said. The agency must compete with other procurement vehicles and explain how it provides the best service to its customers. "GSA's mission is to support its client agencies so that they can focus squarely on their core missions," Johnson said. "We must deliver innovative solutions, not the solutions and tools that may have worked in the past."

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