GSA Chief: Leadership Must Protect Workforce to Drive Innovation

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Things can go wrong when employees are taking risks. That's where senior officials step up, GSA’s Emily Murphy said.

Senior leadership must be willing to “provide cover” to the workforce as agencies pursue innovative projects and purchases, the General Services Administration chief said.

“We can’t be asking our journeyman-level or entry-level acquisition professionals or program managers to be taking a risk, and then when things go wrong—and some things will go wrong—leave them out there on their own,” Administrator Emily Murphy told the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council’s Acquisition Excellence Conference Tuesday. “We need to give them that top cover.”

She said support from high-level leadership trickles down and has become increasingly important as GSA expands its collaboration work, mission support services and as it continues to offer innovative shared services across the federal government.

“President Truman used to say ‘the buck stops here,’” Murphy said. “And the buck should stop at senior leadership, not at the working level.”   

Murphy also said maintaining an ongoing dialogue with industry partners, taking calculated risks and testing new approaches has become critical as GSA leverages some of its specific areas of focus including IT modernization, customer experience and change management.

“We are not innovating just for the sake of innovating,” Murphy said. “We are innovating because we want to accomplish something.”

GSA’s strategic modernization plan includes innovative efforts such as robotic process automation, schedule consolidation, the Centers for Excellence, and developing contract-writing software with the Homeland Security Department.

“Robotic process automation is one area that I think is incredibly exciting for GSA,” she said. “We’ve got pilots that have come in from across the agency.”