Before closing up shop for July Fourth, the Senate confirmed Dan Tangherlini as Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA). Tangherlini had served as acting administrator since April 2012 and has been praised for reforms already instituted at the troubled agency. His widely anticipated confirmation occurred on June 27 by unanimous consent.
Tangherlini’s predecessor, Martha Johnson, resigned in the wake of a scandal over lavish agency spending at a Las Vegas conference in 2010. At Tangherlini’s June 18 confirmation hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Chairman Thomas Carper (D-DE) noted that the agency has had 8 leaders in the past 8 years. “One of the GSA’s main problems over the last decade has been a lack of stable leadership,” said Senator Carper. Citing Tangherlini’s previous positions with the Office of Management and Budget, Department of Transportation, and the D.C. government, Carper asserted that Tangherlini would also bring rich public sector experience to the GSA.
As acting head, Tangherlini has already put that experience and his Wharton School training to good use. Recognizing the need to re-establish public trust in the agency, he set about reducing expenditures on travel, conferences, IT devices and printing. At the confirmation hearing, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) praised him in particular for cutting employee bonuses by 64% agencywide, a move, she noted, that might not have enhanced Tangherlini’s popularity at the office.
In his own remarks to the committee, Tangherlini stated that the agency under his direction has pursued common sense money-saving solutions such as shrinking the federal real estate footprint. The GSA is striving to dispose of unneeded federal properties and to exchange outdated facilities for new construction that better meets current needs. One innovative cost-cutting approach is to transform traditional office space into more flexible, collaborative work environments. At the GSA headquarters, for example, some employees are not assigned desks but rather make reservations for workspace as needed—a method to maximize utilization rates called “hoteling.” Through such practical alterations, Tangherlini projects a savings of over $24 million in annual lease payments in the DC and Northern Virginia area. More on Tangherlini’s views about the shrinking federal footprint can be found in my discussion of the 2013 Federal Property Summit.
Some senators remain skeptical that the agency’s reforms have gone far enough. At the hearing, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) expressed concern about a recent GSA Inspector General report that upper-level managers had improperly pressured subordinates over contracts worth billions of dollars. Although the incidences occurred prior to Tangherlini’s appointment, Coburn viewed it as indicative of a GSA culture that is still not sufficiently focused on obtaining the best deal for the taxpayer. But Senator Coburn commended the then-nominee for a “top-to-bottom” review of the agency in search of additional savings and for instituting a new GSA mission statement: “to deliver the best value in real estate, acquisition and technology services to government and the American people.”
At the hearing, Tangherlini acknowledged the need to “cultivate a culture of continuous evaluation and improvement thoughout GSA.” His assurances of further improvement garnered rare bipartisan support for his confirmation. Senator Carper applauded the confirmation, saying afterward, “Over the past year, Mr. Tangherlini has led an impressive turnaround of GSA, and I am confident he will continue this good work as administrator.”