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GSA Since 1949
“The present arrangements, which have been developed under piecemeal legislation dating as far back as 1870, are inadequate to meet the present requirements of the government.”
So concluded the 1948 Hoover Commission, appointed by President Harry S. Truman to improve the once-disjointed process of supplying federal agencies with goods, services and workspace. The Commission’s findings led to legislation that Truman signed on June 30, 1949, creating the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).
GSA brought under one roof the administrative functions of the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Federal Supply and its Office of Contract Settlement. The National Archives, Federal Works Agency, War Assets Administration, and the Office of Supervising Architect at Treasury also became part of GSA.
The core of today’s GSA is comprised of the Public Buildings Service (PBS) and the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS). PBS, the largest public real estate organization in the country, provides workspace and workplace solutions to more than 100 federal agencies representing over a million federal civilian workers in 2,000 American communities. FAS benefits client agencies, as well as taxpayers, by leveraging the government's enormous buying power to lower costs for goods and services. As in the past, today’s GSA provides expertly managed space, products, services and solutions at best value to federal agencies so they may, in turn, focus squarely on their core missions. From Jess Larson, the first head of GSA, to current Administrator Lurita Doan, the first woman to lead the agency, GSA’s successes over the years have been driven by a worldclass workforce and a willingness to regularly examine, evaluate and, when appropriate, reorganize to ensure GSA’s place as the government’s premier procurement agency.
1950’s and 1960’s
The agency created with a stroke of Harry Truman’s pen was revolutionary in that for the first time, responsibility for overall property management (real and personal property) was consolidated in one agency. In addition to the daunting task of getting a new operation up and running, inaugural Administrator Larson had to oversee the renovation of a well-known but very old property at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Larson would later recall, “The President recognized the problem, and he moved his family and his base of operations across the street to the Blair House, and we proceeded to go forward with a complete renovation of the White House. Really it was more than a renovation; it was a rebuilding.”
Though renovating the President’s house was a novel venture, GSA would rack up many more “firsts” in the years to come. The agency also:
In the 50’s and 60’s, GSA took on another critical assignment - emergency preparedness and stockpiling strategic materials that would be in short supply in war-time. GSA kept various emergency management functions until they were transferred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1979.
GSA added another focus in the early 60’s. In 1962, the Ad Hoc Committee on Federal Office Space recommended a major new building program to address obsolete office buildings in Washington, D.C. This resulted in the construction of many of the offices that now line Independence Avenue in the nation’s capital.
1970’s and 1980’s
The 70’s and 80’s were periods of significant change at GSA. The Consumer Product Information Coordinating Center was created by Executive Order in 1970. Now called the Federal Citizen Information Center, FCIC distributes millions of consumer information publications from its Pueblo, CO, office. Since 1970 FCIC has been the main vehicle for distributing government information to citizens.
The Federal Buildings Fund was authorized in 1972 and became operational in 1974 when GSA issued its first rent bills to federal agencies. The Automated Data and Telecommunications Service was established in 1972 and evolved into the Office of Information Resources Management 10 years later. GSA introduced the federal government to charge cards in 1984, and today more than 2 million GSA cards are used by government employees. GSA opened its first child care center in 1987 and today manages 112 centers for more than 8,000 children in federal facilities across the country.
Meanwhile, GSA also became involved in administrative policy issues. The Office of Federal Management Policy was created in 1973. Procurement policy was centralized in the Office of Acquisition Policy in 1978, and in 1985 the President directed GSA to “provide governmentwide policy oversight and guidance for federal real property management.”
During the 1990’s, GSA reshaped itself by merging the Information Technology Service and the Federal Telecommunication Service into the Federal Technology Service (FTS). As the agency transformed itself to enter the 21st Century, E-Government took center stage and GSA championed the creation of internet commerce.
During the 1990s, PBS introduced its Design Excellence Program in order to streamline the way GSA selects architects and engineers for major construction projects. The program has resulted in outstanding and enduring examples of federal architecture. An influential document written by the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York titled, “Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture,” provided the basis for the Design Excellence Program and significantly changed the course of public architecture.
Another revolutionary change came in September 2000, when GSA launched FirstGov.gov, the official Web portal for the federal government. Renamed USA.gov in 2007, the site has vastly simplified citizen access to government information and services. USA.gov provides citizens access to more than 180 million pages of online federal, state, local and tribal government information.
In 2007, GSA also launched the renamed GobiernoUSA.gov, which provides easy access to Spanish-language web sites and web pages available from federal and state governments. Originally launched as FirstGov en Español in 2004 to serve the Hispanic community -- the fastest-growing demographic group in the U.S. - the site was revamped to make federal, state and local government information and services more accessible to those who speak Spanish.
USA.Gov and GobiernoUSA.gov advanced President Bush’s Management Agenda by using technology to create a 21st Century government for the needs of the 21st Century.
In a similar vein, GSA in July 2002 established an Office of Citizen Services and Communications (OCSC) to be the cornerstone of its E-Gov strategy. OCSC is part of the Administration’s overall streamlining and consolidation of government services from an enterprise that is static to one that is vital and interactive. To this end, GSA created USA Services to be a single front door to the services and information for its federal customers and the American public. USA Services enables state and local governments, the public, businesses and the media to interact with the federal government in the medium they prefer: the web, email, telephone, fax or print. Such “one-stop shopping” brings these tools together in a single place, cutting through red tape and ensuring that the government provides the most effective path to services and information.
This new use of technology came, ironically, as GSA was returning to one of its original functions – emergency preparedness. GSA established the Office of Emergency Response and Recovery (OERR) in November 2006 to better assist the country during national disasters. OERR leverages all resources within GSA in one central office and provides a new level of support and assistance to first responders, emergency workers and recovery teams. By standing up OERR, GSA improved disaster readiness throughout the agency, implemented disaster plans and integrated emergency historic preservation requirements in response and recovery plans. OERR will assist the federal government in providing more efficient disaster recovery for citizens.
GSA’s Office of Emergency Response and Recovery, established by Administrator Doan in November 2006, maintains a critical role in ensuring the nation’s continuity infrastructure. In May 2007, the President issued National Security Presidential Directive 51/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20 (NSPD-51/HSPD-20), the National Continuity Policy. This policy requires an integrated approach to maintain a comprehensive and effective continuity capability in order to ensure the preservation of our form of government under the Constitution and the continuing performance of National Essential Functions under all conditions. The National Continuity Policy Implementation Plan (NCPIP) seeks to ensure that our nation’s efforts and resources will be brought to bear in a coordinated manner through integrated Continuity of Operations and Continuity of Government programs interwoven into routine, daily government operations. The NCPIP tasks GSA to facilitate a coordinated and seamless executive branch continuity infrastructure and provide and maintain a centralized procurement system for all department and agency continuity infrastructure requirements.
A further sweeping change at GSA occurred in 2006 and 2007, when the legacy Federal Technology Service and Federal Supply Service (FSS) were merged into the new Federal Acquisition Service. (FAS) FAS has made GSA operations and processes more transparent. Today’s business procedures are more effective, efficient, and logical for customers and vendors. FAS also enables GSA to better align the delivery of its services in an ever-changing business world.
Looking to the future, GSA will remain a citizen-focused, best-value supplier of goods, services and workspace for the other agencies. Innovations have sprung forth from a workforce infused with a new entrepreneurial spirit. For example, GSA in 2006 and 2007:
Where President Truman and the Hoover Commission set about to modernize operations that were sorely outdated, today’s GSA is striving to anticipate client agency needs and provide total workplace solutions. A new slogan adopted in 2007 reflects GSA’s commitment to continuous improvement, business excellence and superior customer service: “One GSA, One Voice.”
Last Reviewed 5/15/2008