WASHINGTON—Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., delivered the following statement on the Senate floor Monday calling for Senate confirmation of Government Services Administration nominee Martha Johnson.  Johnson’s nomination has been held up since June, when she was unanimously approved by the Committee:


Mr. President, I rise to urge my colleagues to vote for cloture on the nomination of Martha Johnson to be Administrator of the General Services Administration so we can put this extraordinary nominee to work as soon as possible in a job critically important to the efficient operation of the federal government.

As a former Chief of Staff for GSA, Ms. Johnson has the background to hit the ground running. And that is important for an agency that has not had a permanent leader since April 2008, when the former administrator was asked to resign by the previous Administration. And here it is, February 2010. It’s been more than a half year since Ms. Johnson’s nomination was sent to the full Senate and since that time GSA has undergone several changes in top management. It’s become an unfortunate practice that some Senators hold up nominations for reasons unrelated to their nomination.  It’s obviously time for stable leadership at GSA.

                It’s been very frustrating for members of our committee to see such a qualified nominee held up for more than half a year because of something that has nothing to do with the nominee’s qualifications. I would like to take a moment to remind my colleagues of the full scope of GSA’s responsibilities – an agency that mostly works out of the spotlight – so they can better understand why the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously endorsed her nomination last June. 

                GSA is often called the federal government’s “landlord” because it provides workspace and office services for almost every federal office and agency across our country – from courthouses to ports of entry. With 8,600 buildings and $500 billion in assets under its control, GSA is one of the largest property management organizations in the world.

            But GSA actually is far more than just the federal landlord. It has 12,000 employees, spread across the country in 11 districts and they help guide federal spending on everything from basic office equipment to the federal fleet of more than 200,000 vehicles owned or leased by the federal government.

            GSA’s purchasing decisions have broad implications for the rest of the economy since as an early acquirer of new technologies – including green technologies – the agency has helped, and will continue to help, spur production that brings down costs and make these technologies available and affordable to the broader consumer market.  GSA is that important that it can help build a market for transformative and innovative products.

In fact, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act gave GSA specific responsibility to help “green” the federal government by providing $5 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient and $300 million to buy more fuel efficient vehicles for the federal fleet. 

            GSA also has wide responsibilities for providing information technology and telecommunications services for federal agencies. With its leadership, GSA can ensure that the federal government is using cutting-edge technology to lower costs, better engage with citizens, and detect and defend against cyber threats. GSA spends so much money every year acquiring information technology systems, that if it requires the providers to put together systems that are resistant defensive to the kind of cyber attacks that public and private information systems are under today, it can drive those technologies to be more available to the general public.

                But the agency is in need of strong leadership. If confirmed, Ms. Johnson will face many challenges. Let me lay out just a few of the most important.

In the area of procurement, the contracts negotiated by GSA must leverage the vast buying power of the federal government so agencies get more value for the taxpayer’s dollar.

Last year federal agencies bought approximately $53 billion of goods and services off GSA schedules, which offer everything from office supplies to human resource services to security equipment to energy management services, and through other contracts negotiated by GSA.

Having GSA negotiate these procurement agreements lets its customer agencies stay focused on their core missions.  In other words, the agencies don’t have to get into negotiating these contracts, the experts at GSA can do it and the agencies can focus on their core missions.

                But some agencies have lost confidence in the ability of GSA to provide the best products at the best prices and have negotiated their own contracts or interagency contracts that duplicate services offered by GSA. 

This is effectively a waste of federal money and defeats the purpose of GSA, which was created by President Truman in 1949 with the specific intent of streamlining the federal government purchasing process.

Similar problems exist in GSA’s property management activities with agencies sometimes questioning whether GSA meets their needs in the most cost effective manner.

Another problem the new Administrator must address is the amount of excess or underutilized property owned by the federal government.

The Office of Management and Budget has reported that the federal government owns 21,000 buildings, worth about $18 billion, that are under used or no longer needed, but are still sitting there.  Management of federal property is on GAO’s “High Risk” list for just this reason.

Not all of these properties are under GSA’s control, but one of its jobs is to help other agencies dispose of excess property and we need leadership to solve this problem.

                So you see, Mr. President, this is a job with big challenges, as I’ve described. But I believe Ms. Johnson has what it takes because she brings to the job a wealth of experience both in her academic training and her on-the-job experiences in the private, non-profit and government sectors.

Ms. Johnson holds a BA in economics and history from Oberlin College and an MBA from Yale Business School. 

After graduating from Yale, Ms. Johnson began her career in the private sector at Cummins Engines Company. She had a series of other management positions in the private sector, and then was tapped by the Clinton Administration to be an Associate Deputy Secretary of Commerce and then Chief of Staff of GSA from 1996 to 2001.

After leaving government, Ms. Johnson was a vice President Council for Excellence in Government – a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the effectiveness of government at all levels – and most recently served as a vice president at Computer Sciences Corporation. 

Mr. President, all these varied experiences make Martha Johnson a perfect fit for the many responsibilities and challenges she will face as GSA Administrator.

The hold in this nomination has been completely unrelated to Ms. Johnson herself and appointment has broad bi-partisan support. I urge my colleagues to vote yes on cloture so we can confirm this excellent nominee and she can get to work for the American people.

I yield the floor.