GSA Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini said Wednesday that the “supply” agency is working with other agencies to plan for possible sequestration budget reductions since that would mean cutting back on everything from supplies to real estate.
“Our planning is really responsive to the agencies we serve and to get a better sense of how they are thinking about it,” Tangherlini told reporters following a speech at George Washington University. “One of the things we are trying to do is establish a continual framework of communication and see if there are ways we can help [other agencies] manage their way through it.”
Talks between the Obama administration and congressional leaders on how to avoid the “fiscal cliff” and the sequestration budget cuts are ongoing, but no solution has yet been reached. Without agreement, severe budget cuts would take place Jan. 1
Tangherlini (pictured above at a Senate hearing earlier this year) said his agency had not done a hypothetical analysis of the effect of sequestration because beginning before knowing how to proceed doesn’t make sense. Instead, they are “ready to respond as necessary.”
He also said: “Most of GSA’s activities are not directly impacted by sequestration because they are supported by fees or rent paid by agencies. It’s those agencies that are original source of funds that could be impacted by sequestration. We are trying to get a better understanding of how our agencies are going to e impacted and how we can help them resolve it.”
On the subject of the budget altogether, Tangherlini said while GSA has been in cost-saving mode for months, he would not tip his hand on whether the FY2014 budget would show a budget reduction for GSA. That, he said, is OMB’s call.
And Tangherlini would not respond to rumors that he is planning to leave the agency because he is still “acting” administrator after nine months of being in charge. He said that was up to the president, the electorate, and his family “not necessarily in that order.”
Tangherlini’s speech to the conference, sponsored by GWU’s Center for Excellence in Public Leadership and FedInsider, discussed how his agency and others responded to Superstorm Sandy and how the lessons learned in a crisis can be translated to every day work. In a crisis, he said, agencies which normally do not coordinate efforts are focused on the end result, not on which agency does what. That, he said, leads to good results. GSA and FEMA, for example, he said, worked together to find 1,000 chain saws to ship to the hurricane strapped areas in New York and New Jersey. GSA had the resources and connections to suppliers; FEMA had the need.
“This is when the federal government begins to overcome (the silos of individual agencies),” he said. “When we realize that there is no one office that can deal with this crisis. This is when organizations begin to overcome these barriers… and recognize a common goal with a sense of urgency. How do we take that sense of urgency … and bring it to our everyday work in government? How do we overcome those silos and focus on the mission and the needs of the people, worrying less about hierarchy?”
He said the solution is to recognize that there is a crisis every day – the fiscal crisis – and come at it with the same attitude that working across agencies can leverage the power of the government to find solutions.
“This is something that is going to be a longer term burning crisis,” he said. “Can we structure ourselves to recognize that crisis ad solve those problems.”
He said part of the solution lies in the technological revolution that allowed GSA workers to use their smart phones to do things like locate and purchase chainsaws during Hurricane Sandy, when their offices were under water or without power.
“That we are able to carry all of that (in a smart phone) in your pocket, has unlocked tremendous possibilities in the way and the efficiency with which we can deliver services,” he said. He also said that pushing a lot of information into the cloud has made government more efficient and accessible.
During a roundtable discussion prior to the speech, participants brainstormed ways to work across agency lines and between the government and private sectors. Terry Weaver, a retired GSA employee who now owns her own consulting firm, suggested that leaders have to be “fearless, not only during events like Hurricane Sandy but also before that.”
Sheelen Patel, an auditor with the Naval Audit Service, suggested that standardizing jargon, so that a “wingnut is a wingnut” no matter what agency is producing it, is also important.