The Business of Government Hour


About the show

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Stephen Perry interview

Friday, August 30th, 2002 - 20:00
Stephen Perry
Radio show date: 
Sat, 08/31/2002
Intro text: 
Stephen Perry
Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Friday, April 26, 2002

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the co-chair of The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created The Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about The Endowment by visiting us on the web at

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Our special guest this morning is Steven Perry, administrator of the General Services Administration.

Good morning, Steve.

Mr. Perry: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

Mr. Lawrence: Joining us in our conversation is another PwC partner, Steve Watson.

Mr. Watson: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning, Steve.

Steve Perry, let's start by learning more about the General Services Administration. Perhaps you could describe its mission and its roles >.

Mr. Perry: Sure. Let me begin by saying the General Services Administration was formed by Congress back in 1949. At that time, the purpose was to improve the efficiency of government by taking the procurement and property management activities which were then occurring in several different agencies and consolidating that all into one agency, thereby making it more efficient, eliminating the duplication that otherwise would have existed in the various agencies, and enabling GSA then to be the organization that developed expertise with respect to procurement, property management, understanding the supply base, and being able to do a better job and delivering best value for its customer agencies.

We still operate that way today. I think it's a great organizational design concept. Many organizations are organized in a similar way. Many private-sector organizations pool together their procurement and property management into one central part of the organization as opposed to have it overly dispersed throughout the organization.

Our major units are: one, the property management unit is our Public Building Service unit under the leadership of Jill Morvek (?), our commissioner for Public Building Service. Then we have a Federal Technology Service unit which provides telecommunications and IT technology for customer agencies, under the leadership of Sandy Bates.

Thirdly, we have a Federal Supply unit which provides virtually everything else that agencies need, a wide variety of supplies for their offices, equipment, vehicles. Virtually everything, again, that an office would need to operate are provided by our three services.

Then we have a fourth major part of GSA which is called the Office of Government-Wide Policy. This groups works with other agencies within the federal government to develop policies, particularly as they relate to procurement matters and to management issues. As an example, this is the group that works with other agencies in developing the procurement regulations under the federal acquisition regulation rules. So that's what we are.

We provide office space. We are one of the nation's � in fact, I suppose we are the nation's largest commercial real estate-type entity because we provide in total over 350 million rentable square feet of space, which houses 1.1 million federal workers around the nation. Of that space, of the roughly 8,300 buildings in which federal workers are housed, 1,800 are federally owned by the government, and the other 6,500 are owned by private-sector real estate forms, and we lease space. So providing space is one of the big things we do, and then technology, supplies, and policies are the remaining three.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a broad mission. How many people work with you at GSA, and what are their skills? I heard such different areas.

Mr. Perry: It is a very broad mission. Today we have about 14,300 people nationwide that make up the GSA team. It a few years ago was much larger; as a matter of fact, as high as 35,000 in the early 1980s, and that number has been reduced as we have been able to do more work through the use of technology, improved productivity, and some out-sourcing. We have a somewhat smaller organization, but still, at 14,300, that's among the largest of the federal government agencies.

Within our group, our areas of specialty would include clearly people with acquisition skills. As you know, the acquisition procedures and policies within the federal government are a little bit specialized, and those specialized procedures are there for a good reason, so that we make sure that all of the companies in the private sector who would like to interact or do business with the government have an equal opportunity to do so. But they're also there to make sure that our procurement policies enable us to procure best value for agencies in a way that's ethnical, with integrity, and so forth.

So my point being, acquisition is one of our key skills within our agency. Another one is real estate management. Obviously, again, in order to be able to negotiate real estate deals or to manage properties in which we house federal workers, we need people with those skills.

And like many other organizations these days, information technology is a big skill area for GSA. We use information technology in a wide variety of carrying out our operations, and we are working to continually bring in the new technology people that we need to carry out our operations. Those are three.

There are two others that are particularly critical to our mission. One is financial management skills, because we are endeavoring to enhance our ability in that area; not that we're not doing well. In fact, we are very proud of the fact that we've had 14 consecutive years in which we've gotten a clean audit opinion, which is pretty stellar among federal agencies. Nevertheless, we are moving to have a financial management system that provides timely and accurate financial information to our managers for decision-making purposes, and we are endeavoring to enhance our skills in that area.

Then lastly, the fifth of the skills that we're really focused on these days is security. Even prior to September 11th, certainly following the disaster in Oklahoma in 1995, we've been working to enhance our security process and the people that carry out our security process to do two things, generally. One is to have them be people who can work with the other criminal intelligence-gathering informations of the government to understand what the threats are regionally and location by location, and then to apply their expertise in putting in place countermeasures to reduce those threats.

Countermeasures could include security guards. They also could include cameras, the magnetometers and other sorts of screening devices that we use as people enter public buildings. So enhancing our skills in the security area is a fifth major category of skill development for us today.

Mr. Watson: Steve, as the administrator of GSA, what are your responsibilities?

Mr. Perry: Well, they are varied and broad. Like in any major organization, and we are a major organization, a large, complex organization, I have a number of people who are part of the GSA team who have certain responsibilities, and I'll talk about that. But as it would relate to my particular responsibility, I think it is to assure that we have a really effective performance management process. What I mean by performance management process, it begins with understanding and having a broad understanding in the organization of what our agency's mission, values, and goals are. The head of the organization has a very responsible role to make sure that that is occurring, that there are in fact rich dialogues going on inside the organization as to why do we exist, what is our mission, what are we here for, why do we get up in the morning and come to this organization, what are we responsible to do.

Then once we're clear about our mission, we have talked a lot about what are our values: how will we work together; how will we incorporate ethics and integrity into everything we do; how will we foster teamwork inside this organization; how will we work in a way that illustrates our respect for our fellow associates; how will we act in a way that's professional; and most importantly, or equally importantly, at least, how will we be focused on achieving results; how are we result-oriented.

So we've defined our mission, which is to help other agencies better serve the public, and we've defined our values. I see it as the administrator's role to see that that process is occurring and occurring effectively.

After having established mission and values, our role then as the head of the agency was to help craft the goals for the organization. That is, what is it that we will achieve together. We've set for ourselves I believe some challenging goals, following the directives in the President's management agenda, and that's what we do. As the head of the organization, I spend most of my time making sure that this performance management process is in place and that it's working well.

There are a couple of other elements to it. After you get past having goals, then one of the things that you have to do is to make sure that you have the organizational capability that's necessary for success in achieving those goals. That means that you have people with the skills and competencies and personal characteristics and dedication that are necessary to achieve at that level, and we're working to make sure that's the case. Then, clearly, you execute the action plan, you work on measuring your performance so that you can know where you're achieving your goals and where you're falling short. You take corrective action as necessary to keep yourself on track. Then at the end of the day, you assess your performance and reward and recognize people accordingly.

So that whole performance management process, to my mind, helps to explain or define what I believe my role and responsibility is as the administrator at GSA.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good point to stop on.

Come back with us after the break as we continue our discussion with Steve Perry of GSA. Do you know what e-government is? You'll find out in our next segment when we ask Steve about GSA's award-winning FirstGov website.

This is The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and this morning's conversation is with Steve Perry, the administrator of the General Services Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is another PwC partner, Steve Watson.

Steve, you were appointed to this position about a year ago. Can you tell us a little bit about your career prior to joining GSA?

Mr. Perry: Sure. I'm from Canton, Ohio, a wonderful little town in the middle of the state of Ohio. I was born and raised in Canton. My parents had moved there, they had 12 children, and I lived there. I had worked for what was one of the larger employers in Canton called the Timkin Company. Timkin is a worldwide organization with headquarters in Canton and manufactures tapered roller bearings and specialty alloy steel. I had worked at Timkin for 37 years in a variety of positions. The other thing Canton is well-known for that I'll mention is being the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I also had the privilege of being involved with that organization as well.

My career at Timkin started in 1964 and ended in 2001 after 37 years when I joined the Bush administration in this present position. However, there was a period of 2 years, 1991 and 1992, when I was asked by then-governor George Voinovich of the state of Ohio to get involved in his administration running a GSA-type organization, actually at the state level, which was called the Department of Administrative Services for the state of Ohio, and I did that during 1991 and 1992. Then I went back to Timkin. At that point, I had taken the position of senior vice president for human resources, purchasing, and corporate communications. As I say, I'd remained there until 2001.

Mr. Watson: Steve, GSA oversees the FirstGov, website which is a one-stop Internet portal for the government. The site has received praise and a number of awards, and I understand it's been recently updated. Can you tell us a little bit about FirstGov and the recent updates?

Mr. Perry: Yes. FirstGov is a use of Internet technology that was sort of the government's first big step I think into expanding to what ultimately will become a ubiquitous use of Internet technology for government operations. It is a portal into the government.

When it was established, it was put in place as a search engine that enabled people to get information about government activities or government agencies at a very, very rapid pace. There were some 50 million pages of web pages from various government agencies. Then additional state pages were added subsequent to that. Despite the large volume of data that's in this file, the search engine technology that's used would enable you to make an inquiry and get a very, very split-second rapid response so that you could find out information about government activities and government agencies.

What we want to now in keeping with one of President Bush's management agenda items is to expand the use of electronic government, and this is one part of that. What we want to do is enable people in the private sector, either individuals or businesses, not only to be able to obtain information, but to be able actually to complete transactions with the government and with government agencies. So the website will be the portal through which people will come, and then that will link to other agency database files or web files so that information could be pulled through that portal or transactions could be completed through that portal. We're in the process of putting that in place as we speak.

Mr. Watson: As you mentioned, e-government is one of the President's key management agenda items. What role is GSA serving in helping to roll that agenda item out across government?

Mr. Perry: Actually, we have a pretty substantial role. We're working very closely with the Office of Management and Budget, who has a leadership role with respect to

e-government and impacting all agencies. We, in working with OMB, have been asked to be the lead agency on 5 of the 24 initial initiatives; e-government or being one of the 5. But others that we have been asked to take a leadership role in, one is called e-authentication, and what that means is that it's the development of the process by which individuals or businesses who interact with the government over the web will be able to have a confidential interaction, to protect privacy and confidentiality on both sides of that transaction. This e-authentication is an electronic signature technology that will enable that confidentiality and privacy to be properly protected. So we're working with that one.

A second one that we are involved is called integrated acquisitions. As we are a procurement organization, it makes good sense that we would have a major responsibility there. There are other agencies of the government that also are involved in procurement, and this is going to be a process to integrate together all of the acquisition or procurement processes that are used by various federal agencies into one system as opposed to having multiple systems. That will be beneficial in terms of efficiency from the government side. It will also be beneficial from the private-sector side in that vendors who want to do business with the government will have one basic approach to use in getting that interaction, transaction, or business opportunity completed.

A third e-government initiative that we've been asked to serve as the lead agency for is called e-travel. As you know, government officials do a fair amount of traveling on government business, and this will be a process of taking that travel as it relates to all agencies and again coming up with a consistent and uniform approach for authorizing travel, for handling travel reimbursements and all the record keeping that's associated with travel.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me ask you a question now. You said something interesting about taking the lead on an initiative. What does that mean?

Mr. Perry: In each of these cases, it will be necessary for a number of agencies, and indeed, in some cases all of the agencies, to participate. That is, e-travel is a good example; every agency will be impacted by that. Now, the way that we're structuring this is you have one agency that is designated to be the project manager or the managing partner for that initiative. Then you will have several other agencies that form the core team for development and implementation.

Now, not every agency that's impacted will actually be a part of that team, but many agencies would be a part of that team. Teams are typically made up of 6 to 10 agencies, and the lead partner is responsible for convening the meetings, developing the work plans, and keeping the project on schedule; serving, in effect, as the project manager for that project. So it's a very collaborative effort.

In fact, it in some ways is a new experience for many agencies to work collaboratively on projects, because historically, many of the agencies have worked independently. But the web technology and the use of the Internet really affords us the opportunity to have much, much greater intraagency or interagency collaboration so that we have multiple processes and multiple systems duplicated at every agency.

Ten years ago, the technology would have been such that we might not have been able to exploit those synergies that exist among agencies, but today we clearly have that technology. And this use of web technology or e-government as a way to exploit that synergy and efficiency is something whose time has come.

Mr. Watson: What benefits will the citizens see from e-government?

Mr. Perry: One of the benefits will be that they will have an easier and more efficient means of interacting with their government, either, as I mentioned, for purposes of obtaining information, or ultimately for purposes of completing transactions with the government. All of us have probably had the experience at one time or another of unanswered phone calls or mail that took a long time to be returned or waiting in a line for government information or government transaction completion. I think a benefit that will derive here is that that will be become easier and more efficient. Then, of course, another indirect benefit that taxpayers will receive is a less costly way for the government to operate.

Mr. Lawrence: GSA has expressed a commitment to becoming more citizen-centric and customer-centric. I guess I'm curious, who are your customers?

Mr. Perry: Our most direct customers are the other federal agencies.  That's who we work with directly to provide space, technology solutions, supplies, vehicles, furniture, and things of that nature.

In a sense, our indirect customer is the American taxpayer, because again, two things happen: one, as we deliver those goods and services to other federal agencies in an efficient and effective way, we help them to improve the quality of their programs and their ability to meet the needs of the American people. So that's one benefit. The second benefit is that as we do those things well, we reduce the cost of doing it. So another benefit is the lower cost of government.

Mr. Lawrence: How will you become more customer-centric with so many people to serve?

Mr. Perry: Well, one customer at a time I suppose is part of the answer, and we're literally working on that approach. We have a strong commitment to customer service, and in order to be really good at customer service, it has to begin with understanding what the customer's needs are. So we've been working agency by agency to interact with them at the senior management level, at the mid-management level, at the regional level, and at the data-collection level, if you will, to understand what customer needs are; where are they moving programmatically; how can we support that move; what could we do in terms of providing facilities and/or supplies and so forth to support their missions. So we are doing that, as I say, one customer at a time.

Mr. Lawrence: Stick with us through the break as we continue our conversation with Steve Perry of GSA.

Managing one organization is often challenging, but managing across multiple organizations surely increases those challenges. In the next segment, we'll ask how GSA works across multiple government agencies and deals with these challenges. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Today's conversation is with Steve Perry, administrator of the General Services Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson, another PwC partner.

Mr. Watson: Steve, in the last segment, we were talking about the various

e-government initiatives that GSA is leading. You touched on three of them. Are there others?

Mr. Perry: Yes, Steve. I think I mentioned e-authentication, e-travel, and we talked a little bit about integrated acquisitions. In a general sense, we talked about a fourth one which is called USA Services, which we call our Office of Citizen Services, which has to do with the use of our website to become the portal for providing information, and then ultimately, the ability to conduct transactions with the federal government. That's the fourth one.

Then the fifth and final one that we've been asked to serve as the managing partner for is called Fed Asset Sales, and this is to make available to the public assets that the government no longer needs or can use and has available for sale. Some of those assets are personal property, vehicles, boats and things of that nature. Other assets are real property, land and buildings that may not be required for agency missions anymore. Then another category is security assets that the Department of the Treasury makes available for purchase by the public.

We are attempting to put into place a website which would be a one-stop shop for any individual or business that would want to purchase a government, that would be the way that that would happen, and those make up the five projects that we're working on.

Mr. Lawrence: GSA has expressed the desire not to let the human capital need become a crisis. What are your top HR concerns, and how are you addressing them?

Mr. Perry: Well, the issue of managing human capital has to do with building the organizational capability necessary to achieve the goals that an organization has set for itself. As we have set out goals, we are now in the process of assessing whether or not we have people with all the right skills and competencies to be successful in achieving those goals.

We have identified five areas where we know that we have to do some more work in terms of, first of all, additional training and development so that we can enhance the skills of existing people. Second, we will do some more work in understanding what our attrition will be, being prepared in the event of retirements and what-have-you. So we're working to make sure that we're prepared for smooth transitions in those cases.

Then thirdly, doing targeted recruitment to bring into the organization people who have skills that particularly needed. Some of those skills, obviously, will exist in the five mission-critical areas that I may have mentioned: IT, real estate management, security, which is a big one.

Mr. Lawrence: You're also taking a lead role in embracing teleworking for employees. What's teleworking?

Mr. Perry: Teleworking, or telecommuting, as some people call it, has to do with carrying out your normal work, but doing it outside of your normal office place. Sometimes that can happen at home if you have the computer equipment on the home end in order to interact with the network at your office, or other times, it can happen in a teleworking center where you would drive from your home to some other location closer to your home than your office and do the teleworking from there. We've built 15 such centers in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, including Virginia and Maryland, so that in some cases, people drive from their home to the teleworking center and then carry out their work from that location.

It has a number of benefits. One of the benefits is that it helps to improve the quality of life in some sense, quality of work life, in that people can use that as an approach to accomplish their work and be productive without necessarily having to drive to work. A second benefit area is that it reduces the transportation problems, snarls and traffic congestion that we have to some extent. And it may have a favorable -- or would have a favorable impact as well on pollution resulting from driving our cars in these congested areas.

Another area of benefit is that in the case of some individuals, they actually wouldn't be able to work if they didn't have the telecommuting as an option, at least for portions of their time. So you might take somebody whose personal life schedule is such that they really couldn't take on a 40-hour-a-week kind of a job, but if they could work some of that time from a telecommuting center, some of that time from their home, and then some of that time in the office, in some instances, it makes it possible to actually recruit that person.

Mr. Lawrence: What are the challenges of telecommuting?

Mr. Perry: One of the challenges initially was to be able to afford the cost of the equipment that would be necessary to carry it out, but that cost has come down dramatically in recent years, so that's not so much of an issue anymore.

Now the challenge becomes is the nature of the work such that telecommuting fits. For example, a receptionist can't telecommute from home because he or she has to be at a location to carry out the job. The same would be true of a maintenance person. They have to be physically where the assets are that they're going to be working on.

But there would be others who are, for example, involved in report writing or in report review or some other kind of activity where their interaction with other associates can be done electronically or over the phone. In those cases where the nature of the work is right, then telecommuting fits. So that's one issue.

The other issue is a little bit of a cultural issue. Telecommuting is relatively new for us in our culture, and so we are finding that managers and subordinates in the manager's office have to get used to this idea of not being in the same work space and nevertheless being confident that work is being achieved. They can get that confidence if they have developed together the performance expectations; you know what is to be done, you know what the time frames are, and as long as all those things are being achieved, whether the person is in the office or working from a telecommuting center, it becomes less and less of an issue.

Mr. Watson: GSA's mission requires it to work closely and cooperate with other agencies to get its work done. How hard is it working across an organization as large as the federal government?

Mr. Perry: Well, it does present its challenges, but you're absolutely right; in order for us to be successful in carrying out our work, we have to work with individual agencies and many times with multiple agencies together. That just requires us and the other agencies to adopt a spirit of teamwork.

In the aftermath of September 11th, I think we learned that we could do that, because although the terrorist attacks of September 11th are a memory that we don't like to keep reflecting on, one of the lessons learned from that was how our government agencies did in fact act very, very closely together. There are numerous examples of that.

I know in our case, GSA and FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, worked very closely, and we helped them locate space where they could operate in New York, and we provided them with materiel and so forth that they needed to conduct the search-and-rescue efforts and provide other assistance. The same was the case with the Department of Defense here in Washington, D.C. As you know, the airplane attack on the Pentagon caused them to be completely disrupted and they needed to be placed back into space and re-equipped with telephones and telecommunications equipment and so forth. So our two agencies worked night and day, literally, and very closely together to accomplish those things. It's just an example that it in fact can happen and we know that we can do it.

Within our agency, our three major services of technology, supply, and buildings, also found that we could work very, very closely together in providing total solutions to our customer agencies in a way that was closer than we had worked previously. So, yes, it has to happen, it can happen, it does happen. There are always challenges; the challenge of independence as opposed to collaboration. But we're learning in these days that collaboration is the route to high performance. We're doing it in GSA, and I think we're doing it more and more within the total federal government.

Mr. Lawrence: You've described a lot of successes. What were your lessons learned in terms of going forward about how to make this happen absent a crisis?

Mr. Perry: The issue of being clear in our mission and our understanding of our capabilities, that from a customer perspective, they expect GSA, as I say, to deliver a total solution. They don't necessarily look at us only as an entity that provides physical space or only as an entity that provides telephone service or telecommunications. They look at us as an agency that provides everything that they need for the successful operation of their agency other than the people themselves, and they bring that.

But as we look at ourselves in the way our customers look at us, it causes us to understand that we can better meet their needs by working collaboratively across all organizations or aspects of our GSA.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point. Come back with us as we continue our discussion about management with Steve Perry of GSA.

What will the future hold for government in GSA? We'll ask Steve for his thoughts when The Business of Government Hour continues. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with Steve Perry, administrator of the General Services Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is another PwC partner, Steve Watson.

Mr. Watson: In your fiscal 2001 annual report, it's reported that GSA met or exceeded 78 percent of the performance goals it had set forth. Were you satisfied with this outcome?

Mr. Perry: We know that we can improve upon that, and we know we need to improve upon that, and we know we need to improve upon that because our customer needs are increasing. We are setting for ourselves, or have set for ourselves for 2002 and beyond even more challenging goals than were set in 2001. So we will have to work harder and smarter to make sure that our performance continues to improve. Even though 2001 was a good year and it indicates that we have a strong foundation on which to build, we know that the future will require us to do more than that.

Mr. Watson: What are some of your top priorities for fiscal year 2002 and beyond that, looking forward to 2003?

Mr. Perry: Well, let's take our property management area first. As you know, we have 1,800 or so federally owned buildings. Unfortunately, the state of repair of some of those buildings is not what it should be. The General Accounting Office did a study that indicated that something over $4 billion of deferred maintenance needed to be addressed. We know that that is going to be a tough challenge, and at the same time, we know that we want our legacy to be that we addressed those issues as best we possibly could.

We're doing that by first of all in our portfolio management of our real estate assets, developing the priorities of which of those buildings will be addressed first, and we're looking at those priorities on a national basis. The second thing we're doing is that we're taking the resources that we have available in the appropriations from Congress in what's called the Federal Buildings Fund and giving a high priority to addressing the backlog of repair and alterations work or deferred maintenance.

Then thirdly, we are sponsoring proposed legislation that would reform the property management rules and regulations under which we operate to enable us to use more modern real estate management practices so that we could better address some of these issues. As an example, one of the more modern real estate management practices would be that each agency would be more involved, if you will, in developing an annual facilities management plan and making sure that that facilities management plan was consistent with that agency's mission. That would help to identify whether there are buildings that are excess to that agency's mission so that we could deal with that. It would also help to identify buildings that continue to be needed for the agency's mission, and so they would move up on the priority list in terms of attention for purposes of repair and alterations.

Another part of that reform would be to enable GSA to enter into public-private partnerships; in effect, find a way to be able to have private-sector investors invest in repairing existing federally owned buildings and then recovering their investment over a period of years by receiving a pro rata share of the rent. Today, we often find ourselves with inadequate resources. If we could tap private-sector developers who would be willing to make these investments for a return, it would be a way to help solve these deferred maintenance problem that we have. So that's a big priority for us in the property management arena.

In the procurement arena, what we've been endeavoring to do is find more and more efficient ways to enable agencies to be able to carry out their purchase of products and services needs. As you know, we have something called GSA schedules, a very efficient marketplace type of arrangement that we at GSA have put in place that enables agencies who need to buy certain things just go to that schedule and make the purchase. The terms and conditions have already been negotiated, the price and delivery items are already in place, and it makes it a very efficient process for agencies to use.

In addition to those sorts of unassisted schedules, we have some agencies who need additional assistance, particularly in the purchase of information technology types of items. In that instance, our Federal Technology Service provides additional assistance where it's needed to help agencies develop the scope of their process change, to help them review alternatives in terms of their purchasing options, help them make the selection, and provide for the delivery and implementation of the improvement. So that is an area as well where we are endeavoring to make that process work better so that agencies get even higher value when they use GSA for their procurement purposes.

Mr. Watson: We've talked about other aspects of the President's management agenda. Another agenda item is a better link to performance with the budget process. How effective has GSA been in being able to make that linkage?

Mr. Perry: That's an area that we will need to make further improvement. As a matter of fact, we have had some success in being able to identify parts of our performance agenda that are working well and identify parts that are not working well and then make the appropriate resource allocation changes as needed. What's meant by linking budget to performance is that you should not continue to devote resources to an activity that's not generating a highly desirable result. So that means that there may be low-value activities that agencies are involved in and we need to reduce the amount of time, money, and people that devoted to low-value activities and have a greater proportion of our resource budget allocated to the higher-value activities. So that's what we're attempting to do to a greater extent than may have been the case in the past.

Mr. Lawrence: You've worked in both the private sector and the public sector. I'm curious about your observations on the differences perhaps just in terms of culture.

Mr. Perry: Actually, there are a lot of similarities to me, as a person coming in, I find most people in the private sector would not have assumed. One of the things that is very prevalent I think in the public sector is it is populated by a number of people who are here largely as a result of their commitment to public service. It isn't that they couldn't be successful in the private sector, but they just made a choice to be involved in a public-service type of activity because of the satisfaction that that brings. So we happen to have, certainly at GSA, a number of people who are very capable, competent individuals who are doing what they do partially driven by this desire to be involved in public service.

Again, I see lots of similarities between the private sector and the public sector, but one area of difference perhaps is this area that the President has hit upon as he has announced his performance management agenda, saying that we can deliver good government to the people; good government being defined as citizen-centered and results-oriented. That's a very simple statement, but really a profound statement as well: citizen-centered,

results-oriented government. That's the definition of good government. But President Bush's agenda says that we can deliver that in part by improving on our use of good management practices. So that is an area where the private sector I think generally speaking is more diligent about using good management practices than is the case today in some public-sector agencies.

What I mean by good management practices, to make sure that you have a process of setting challenging goals; goals that are important from a customer perspective, goals that are challenging, goals that are measurable, and goals that are broadly communicated among the people who have to carry them out. That's a management practice. Some organizations don't do that as well as they might. I think as we at GSA and other federal agencies do our goal setting steps better, it begins to improve or offer the opportunity for improvement of the organization.

Similarly, other aspects of the performance management process beyond goal setting, developing action plans which are documented so that it's clear among everybody in the organization who is responsible to do what by when. Then moving on with execution of those action plans, and then measuring performance after the fact; measuring performance as a part of the effort to achieve accountability, but also measuring performance as a part of the effort of understanding where it is that we're on the right track and where it is that we're not on the right track so that we could take appropriate corrective action in terms of our processes.

So these are management practices which, as I say, most private sector organizations that I've been familiar with rely upon and execute in a very diligent and rigorous way. In the public sector, we are moving toward executing those kinds of management practices more diligently and more rigorously, and I think the result will be improved performance.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice would you give to a young person interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Perry: Well, I would certainly encourage it. Being involved in public service is necessary. When you think of what our country's infrastructure and activities would be like if we didn't have the services that are brought to us by federal agencies, it's necessary. It's a very worthwhile career, because you do have the opportunity to use your academic skills and your God-given talents to do very interesting work.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, we've run out of time, Steve.

Steve and I want to thank you for being with us this morning.

Mr. Perry: Thank you. It's been a pleasure. I really have enjoyed our conversation. I'll mention, if I may, if people want to get in touch with GSA, there's at least two ways to do it in terms of using the web. One is through, and the other is That gets you in touch not only with GSA, but with all federal agencies.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Steve Perry, administrator of the General Services Administration.

Be sure to visit us on the web at There, you can learn more about our programs and research, and you can also get a transcript of today's very interesting conversation. Again, that's

This is Paul Lawrence. See you next week.

Stephen Perry interview
Stephen Perry

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