GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan joins the program. Listen in as Robin discusses how the GSA is striving not to be just the best place to work in government, but the best place for our customers to do business.
>> Welcome to GSA FAS Focus, a look at what is happening in and around the US General Services Administration's Federal Acquisition Service. I am Joan Cornblithe, and we are very happy to welcome Robin Carnahan to the show this week. She is the twenty-third administrator of the US General Services Administration and brings a lifetime of public service to the job. You know, this is one time I could say, literally, and be using the word correctly, as Robin was born into a family devoted to public service, something that we will talk about in just a couple of minutes. Now, this is not her first time working at GSA. Like another recent guest, GSA Deputy Administrator Katie Kail, Robin also worked at the agency during the Obama administration, founding and leading the state and local government practice at 18F, the innovative tech and design consultancy for the government that is based here at GSA. 18F partners with agencies to improve the user experience of government services by helping those agencies build and buy technology. But her GSA career is just one of the many things that makes Robin Carnahan, well, Robin Carnahan. In no particular order or importance, Robin is an instrument weighted pilot, a lawyer, and was twice elected Missouri Secretary of State. And since you follow government innovation, you've probably heard her speak or read her comments on issues relating to the smarter use of technology. I'm really looking forward to talking with Robin Carnahan about all of those issues. Of course, as always, we'll run down some of the webinars and CLP opportunities coming up in the next couple of weeks, and later, put a couple of fascinating FAS facts in FAS focus. [ Music ] Welcome back to FAS Focus, a look at what is happening throughout GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. I am Joan Cornblithe, and please if you have not done so yet just click that button that says 'subscribe'. That way you are never going to miss an episode of FAS Focus. Yes, we are available on all your favorite podcast sites, but subscribing, it just makes it so simple. No more hunting around for the latest episode. Coming up, I will be talking with Robin Carnahan about, well, a whole lot of things. Robin is -- I guess you could say she's the big cheese around here. She is the administrator of GSA, which means Robin is at the top of the food chain. She was appointed to lead the agency by President Joe Biden in April and confirmed in June with broad support across party lines. Robin was on the job just a couple of days later, and she will be joining us in just a minute. But first, I want to tell you about something cool coming up on Thursday, September sixteenth from 9 to 10:30 AM Eastern time. It is the GSA mid-Atlantic region's next customer connection online panel discussion, this time featuring the nuclear regulatory commission. Join us, take part, and learn how GSA can help your agency optimize your workplace design. This event will feature a panel discussion between the NRC and the GSA project team. We'll learn how the GSA project team developed the new NRC workplace design, resulting in a significant space reduction, reflecting the NRC's changing needs post-pandemic. This will also be a great way to learn now workplace 2030 is being incorporated into workplace design. To learn more and register, just go to www.GSA.gov and then scroll down and click on the 'Upcoming Events' section or reach out to your mid-Atlantic account manager for more information. Again, that is Thursday, September sixteenth from 9 to 10:30 Eastern daylight time. The mid-Atlantic region covers leases expiring in just that region, but I supposed folks living in other regions could still tune in to pick up tips, but you will be getting up pretty early if you're in the Pacific time zone because that is a 6 AM start time for you. [ Music ] Welcome back to FAS Focus, a look at what is happening in and around GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. I'm Joan Cornblithe, and today, I'm joined by Robin Carnahan, the administrator of the General Services Administration. Thank you so much for taking time to sit down with us, today. I know that your days must be packed. >> It's been pretty busy, Joan. I won't tell you otherwise. It's very interesting and I'm enjoying it very much. >> Well, I think it is safe to say that while I am pretty sure that you are our first guest who has a pilot's license, I am 100% sure you are our first instrument rated pilot, and I know that you are our first former Secretary of State, not just of Missouri, but of any state. But would you give us your short bio? How did you get here? And please, don't say, "I turned left at Albuquerque". >> For sure, I won't say that. So quick background on me. So I grew up in a little town in south Missouri, got a degree in economics at a little college outside of Kansas City, Missouri and went on to law school. Was always very interested in sort of, public service because that was a thing that ran in my family. My dad was a lawyer, as well, so I spent a little bit of time practicing law after law school. I came back to St. Louis to do that, but I always kind of thought I would do something else and thought a law degree was really handy, but I didn't want to be lawyer. So I ended up working some in the federal government in the early '90s in the Clinton administration at a place called the export import bank and learned a lot about federal government. I had done a little bit in state government prior to that. But learned a lot about federal government in a small agency that was very mission focused on delivering for a very specific set of customers, or people who were trying to sell more goods and services overseas. And so it was great experience. Returned home to Missouri, always have done a lot in politics with my family, and had you know, parents run for office on and off. I helped in campaigns, but also did a lot of business and trade consulting during that time, so I was out of government, myself but decided to run for office myself. And that was in the early 2000s and was elected Secretary of State in Missouri. I served two terms. It was, again, a really interesting experience about people's expectations with government. It was very much a service delivery office, not a high policy office. We didn't vote on anything, we just had to help people who needed something out of government. Sometimes it was businesspeople who wanted to start a new business. Sometimes it was folks who had had problems with financial investments because we took care of -- we were the, oversaw brokers and dealers, and all financial securities investments in the state. Sometimes it was folks who were interested in genealogy, because we dealt with the state archives. Other times it was voters and people -- because we oversaw elections, and some of it was libraries. So it was this giant portfolio of customers that we dealt with every day, and that was right about the time that things were beginning to be more digital in government. And so I remember the first day I walked into that job. There were more people, literally, opening envelopes to prepare checks to be deposited to renew their business license than we had in our IT department. Right? So that was like the moment, was like oh my gosh, we have got to do better with this because not only are these customers of the office, these are voters. Like, I've got to like, keep people happy and they expect not to have to do all of this stuff, and paper, and have it take a long time. So we spent a lot of time when I was in the Secretary of State's office improving technology in every single part of the office, and did some really, really interesting and innovative things, but I also saw when it didn't work and had very, sort of searing experiences with vendors who didn't deliver, and projects that were over-budget and over-time. And it was terrible, and I found when I left office after two terms that that was not unusual, that a lot of other people in public life had, you know, their own version of PTSD because the technology that they depended on to run their office, they didn't know enough about what questions to even ask to make sure that it worked well. And so that's what really set me on the path to sort of better understand how -- if you can't make, as I say, the damn websites work, you can't deliver government service well to people because that's where they're going to get service, nowadays. So that's what led me to GSA, and I joined the 18F team to begin to, like, stand up some things for state and local government to make those technology transitions go better. So it's exciting to be back. >> Well, how does that background that you just described to us, how does that influence your approach to running a federal agency? Because this job is quite different than the last one that you held at GSA, and all the other ones that you've held before. >> That's true. It is very different, but I have led other big agencies and offices, and I think having the perspective of somebody who has been on staff, not in a leadership role but in a delivery role, gives me a pretty good view and understanding of what people are going through, and what some of the blockers are for them to be able to do their best work. So I see my role at GSA as really just trying to unblock things for people. I know there are terrific folks at GSA. I know that they're close to customers. I know that they understand what a good customer experience is, and you want to be able to give that, but sometimes there are things in the way. Sometimes it's laws, sometimes it's funding, sometimes it's staffing, sometimes it's whatever. I'm in a position, now, to be able to help them unblock those things, so I'm excited to do that. >> I'm Joan Cornblithe, you are listening to GSA FAS Focus. By the way, if you have not subscribed to our podcast yet, please do so. It's just a quick click and it will make everyone very happy. If you have got questions about anything you are hearing today, or someone you'd like to hear featured on the program, all you have to do is send us a note. The email address is GSAFASFocus@gsa.gov. That is GSAFASFocus@gsa.gov. Today, we are talking with Robin Carnahan, GSA's Administrator. Before we go any further, you mentioned that you did grow up in a family devoted to public service, so I've got to ask did you ever think about not joining the part of the family business? Or did you grow up asking for books on public policy and time management for birthday gifts? >> It's funny, but I never have had a political science class, even to this day. >> Never? >> I studied economics when I was in college and went to law school. I served -- just got to live out what civics and political science was about around the dining room table, frankly, every night at home. But I spent a bunch of my career outside of government, as well. And that is not, by the way, unlike my father who was in and out in the private and public sectors, and I do think that it gives you a better perspective. If you're on the other side, if you're on the receiving end of government services, you see a very different side and have a very clear perspective on what that ought to be. So I think it's great for people to go in and out of public service and see things from both sides. It's -- it gives you a clearer view of how things ought to work. >> As you mention, this is your second time working at GSA. The first time through was with 18F. Tell us a little bit more about your first tour at the agency. You know, what is so special about GSA that you agreed to come back and take on really, what is a tough role? What brought you back here? >> Yeah. As I've said to folks from the beginning, this was the only job in the administration I was interested in because I think GSA is the place in government that is here to help our customer agencies deliver better for our customers and for the public. No place else in government gets to do that across government, and so the potential to make an impact and show that government can work, that democracy can deliver for people is what motivates me and so that's why I was interested in coming back. You mentioned my first time at GSA, which was at -- in the Obama administration, and I stayed over during part of the Trump administration, as well. It was very -- it was really pivotal to me to be able to better understand the scale of the problem when it comes to the technology piece of government. As I told you, I had some experience with the good and the bad when I was in the Secretary of State's office. But coming to GSA helped me understand the scale of the problem, and also to see patterns. There were common patterns that were affected lots of different agencies at every level of government. And so once you can see the scale, and see the patterns, and you're working with a bunch of very smart technologists who have thoughts about how to solve those, then you can begin having a sort of vision of the future and what that can look like, and can talk to non-technical leaders, right, -- who are the heads of most of these agencies -- about what they can do to present a different future and do better when it comes to digital service delivery. So yeah, it's very interesting. One of the things that I also was able to do at 18F was take advantage of the 10X program. I want to take a minute to give that a big shoutout. I think it's a fantastic thing that GSA has, which if you don't know about it, look it up. It's the ability for folks on the staff at GSA to pitch an idea. So if they have an idea bout how to create a better service to the public, they can go and get some funding to be able to get some money and some time to spend and devote to this idea. You go back and you present it. If they like it, it's like an investment fund. They'll invest a little more money in that idea, and then they'll do it again. So there are multiple rounds of funding and time, basically, which you can devote to some of these new ideas that you have, and one of them I worked on was a way to de-risk software projects. How do you -- how do you reduce the risk of developing these software projects? Particularly, a focus for states. And it was interesting, because we anticipated that that would be read by, you know, maybe 50 or 100 humans who were at the state level, working for legislators who had to look at technology budget requests. Like, that was our audience that we wrote this whole thing for. Non-technical, but that was the audience. And it's turned out that that document has been downloaded, you know, hundreds of thousands of times. It's been translated into several different languages, and it's been widely used across government and is the basis for creating a federal handbook on the same topic, and that was out of 10X. And so I just bring that up to say like, there are terrific things at GSA for folks who have ideas about how to make government work better to let you pursue those. So I encourage everybody to do that. >> We will make sure to get information about how to find out about that program into our write-up about this podcast when it's published. And I think people -- often when they think of GSA, they think, "oh, it's buildings", but there's so much more. I mean GSA is really involved in things that every agency does. I mean, you look at rockets going up in space. They really couldn't do that without some of the parts that they procure through this agency. If you dig down deep into every federal agency, there's probably something related to this one going on. And projects going on in every state in the country, whether it's the ports of entry, highway projects, everything. There is, you know, six degrees of GSA happening. So it really is a fascinating place to work. >> I agree with that. >> Well, as you and I are talking, we're nearing the end of fiscal year 21. We're about 18 months or so into unrelenting change as a result of COVID-19. What challenges do you think GSA is facing now as an organization? And really, if it's fair to ask, are there opportunities for GSA moving forward? >> Oh, absolutely. You know, I think that there -- there's no doubt that we've weathered all these challenges, just like everyone in their personal lives and every business. GSA has, too. But I'm impressed with how well that transition has gone from my vantage point. It feels like that the challenge and the opportunity is kind of the same thing to me, which is how do we reimagine the workplace of the future? Right? Where -- how we serve our customers and where we serve our customers, and doing that with, like, just this you know, laser focus on both the service and empowering our GSA teams. So when it comes to real estate, you know, you mentioned the real estate portfolio. Obviously, that's been the traditional sort of major piece of what GSA does and that's going to continue to be a big piece of it. But we all know that our agency partners are going to be kind of rethinking -- in the same way GSA is -- what the future of work looks like, what telework looks like, what remote work looks like, how much time people are going to be in office. So there's no doubt that the footprint is going to change some when it comes to real estate, and probably shrink some. And so we have to be thinking about that. We also have to be thinking about what the alternative is, and it's not just workspace in physical buildings, but you know, how we sell them technology. Right? We provide -- we let folks acquire things, but we're going -- we're thinking about you know, PBS and FAS together thinking about a home office in a box and how agencies can, if they need that for their work force, GSA can provide that for them. But that's sort of a cross functional activity, as GSA understands that it's not just in these silos anymore, that it really is about reimagining the future of work, and I think that's a huge opportunity. >> You are listening to FAS Focus from the US General Services Administration. I'm Joan Cornblithe, talking today with GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan. We've got just a couple of more minutes. Would you please share a little bit about the agency's role in advancing the administration's priorities, especially when it comes to two of the hottest topics to date, climate change and advancing equity. >> Yes. So it's really important initiatives of the president and things that we at GSA have really, again, a fantastic opportunity to make a difference in. On the -- let me just address the climate part, first, because there's so much that I think we can very specifically talk about, there. You know, one is carbon free electricity for federal buildings. We've -- we have a target that we're talking about 2025 having sustainable, renewable energy powering our buildings, which is incredible for one of the largest real estate portfolios in the country. So it feels like a place we can really lead and make a difference. Electrifying the federal fleet to get zero emission vehicles is a big deal that's in front of Congress right now. The funding for all of those projects, but it's a thing we're going to continue to move toward, as well as the power infrastructure in the buildings to be able to do the charging. And then there's, you know, the other issues about building emissions and trying to reduce those, and have more efficient buildings, and do other kinds of mitigation and remediation activity in this big real estate portfolio. So lots of opportunities on that front. When it comes to equity, we also have lots of opportunity. I know that it's not just about sort of physical access to buildings, but it's about you know, opportunities for small and disadvantaged businesses, opportunities for them to sell to the government, opportunities for us to think in our acquisition offerings, that we'll make it very transparent to our agency partners how they can drive these initiatives on equity inclusion, as well. So its an exciting time to be at GSA to be able to push some of these things forward. >> Finally, finally, we're going to let you go after this last one. This really is one of my favorite parts of the program. Give me a second to reach over here, I don't know if you can see it. I'm grabbing my kind of cloudy old crystal ball. I've got to get this thing cleaned up one of these days, but then I wouldn't have to ask you this question if it worked correctly. Let's look ahead two or three years. What would you like to have accomplished in that time? And by accomplished, I mean is there something that you'd like to look at and say, "GSA made that happen", or point to and say, "GSA made doing that thing easier for the American people". >> Oh, absolutely. I've had a long list but let me just boil it down to a couple of things. I want GSA to be a place that provides 'wow' customer service and customer experience. What do I mean by that? I mean that every time anybody interacts with GSA, whether it's in person or online, on the telephone, I want them to finish that and say, "wow, that was great", "wow, I wish all government worked this well". So that's number one, and the second is I want to make GSA actually the best place to work in government. I know we talk about, great place to work, GSA. Well, that sort of says it like it's a fact. I know that this is a moving target and it's something we have to work at all the time. And so I want to empower people to be able to do their best work. If we can reimagine how we're delivering work and where we're delivering work, I feel like we'll be successful. >> Well, I will just say, wow. Thank you very much. This has been really great. I've learned a lot, and I hope that you will have time at some point soon to come back and join us again and talk about some of the things that you've accomplished since your last visit, and just wow, again, GSA. Thank you, Robin. >> Happy to be here, and thanks for doing this! Look forward to seeing you again. >> We've been talking with GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan, and I really appreciate you giving us so much time today. If you do have any questions for Robin or would like to learn more about anything that we've talked about, the address is GSAFASFocus@gsa.gov, and please, I hope you have clicked to subscribe to the podcast. You haven't? Well, do it now. We will wait. Coming up, news of another great training opportunity and some fascinating FAS facts. I'm Joan Cornblithe, and you are listening to GSA FAS Focus. [ Music ] Welcome back to GSA FAS Focus, a look at what is happening throughout GSA's federal acquisition service. I am Joan Cornblithe, and as always, we have got news of another great webinar or training session for you. I am joined, now, by our producer Max Stempora. Max is here with information about what? It's -- what have you got for us today? >> All right, Joan, so this one is kind of special. In honor of our gest today, I've found something from the heartland region, and that's our Region 6, sort of the middle of the US. It's an introduction to what Heartland Supply does and how it helps federal customers. >> Oh, excellent choice. Now, tell me more. I bet our friends in Global Supply had something to do with this one. >> Joan, I think you're reading my lines again, there. >> I promise, I am not. Go ahead, tell me more about this exciting training opportunity at 3 PM Eastern on Wednesday, September eighth. >> Hey, now. That's -- okay, all right. >> Sorry. >> So there is a webinar on Wednesday, September eighth called Learn How to Equip Your Mission with Hand and Power Tools from GSA. It's an overview of how to purchase from GSA's global supplies offerings of power tools, generators, tool kits, and other items used daily by machine shops, retrofitting facilities, and mechanics. This one is perfect for contracting officers or COTARs, purchasing agents, cardholders, federal technical experts, or any other federal agency employee working with an organization that uses hand and measuring tools. Now, don't forget, GSA Global Supply is your one-stop source for all your military and agency support needs from new tools to office supplies. > That's right, Max. When you order through Global Supply, you can count on regulatory compliance, one bill, and global delivery from a reliable government source. And thanks to requisition-based ordering, there is no need to comparison shop. GSA Global Supply guarantees you easy compliance with government acquisition policies and socioeconomic regulations. Plus, GSA provides full accountability from order placement through delivery and billing. Ordering from GSA Global Supply has never been easier. I'm just flashing back to when I used to do commercials for people. Again, this hour-long webinar is Wednesday, September fourth from 3 to 4 PM. That is 2 PM Central, 1PM Mountain, and it is a lunchtime webinar for our friends in the Pacific time zone. Wherever you are, just remember to visit the GSA.gov events page at www.GSA.gov/events to find out more. I am Joan Cornblithe, and coming up on FAS Focus, we have got a few fascinating FAS facts for you. [ Music ] Welcome back to GSA FAS Focus. I am Joan Cornblithe. We are almost out of time for today, but I did want to leave you with a few fascinating FAS facts. Are you ready, Max? >> I really am. What's our subject today, Joan? >> Well, we just wrapped up our chat with GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan, so I think this would be a great time to share some fascinating facts about GSA in general. >> Okay. Yeah, I'm ready for that. >> Well, I mentioned at the top of the show that Robin Carnahan is our first guess who is an instrument rated pilot. >> Yep. >> And she is also the twenty-third administrator of GSA. >> Okay. >> She was sworn in on July first, 2021, which just happened to be the day that we said happy seventy-second anniversary, GSA. >> Oh, wow. >> That's right. Yeah, GSA was established by President Harry Truman on July first, 1949, to streamline the administrative work of the federal government. And in 2021, among our priorities, are strategies to modernize and simplify the buying and selling experience for our customers, suppliers, and the acquisition workforce. So some things don't change. >> [inaudible] >> We're still doing that good work. Well, let's go back in time to those days of yore, 1949 to be exact. Any idea what a loaf of bread cost when GSA was stood up, 1949? >> 1949. >> I know that's long before you were born. >> Oh, yes. You got that write. >> And long before I was born, thank you. >> I wasn't too sure about that, Joan. So -- >> We're going to have to get pictures up on our website. >> Absolutely. So 1949, maybe a loaf of bread was 25 cents? >> 14 cents. >> Okay. Wow, that's cheaper than I thought. >> Yeah. Okay, and here's another. I know you like movies. The best picture award at the Oscar's, handed out on March twenty-fourth of 1949 went to? >> No. I don't -- that, I don't know. >> Hamlet. Hamlet, directed by Sir Laurence Olivier and it got pretty tough competition that year from Johnny Belinda, The Red Shoes. I've seen both of those. The Snake Pit, I was not familiar of that -- with that one, but also The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, starring Humphrey Bogart. >> Oh, wow. >> And the big scandal, was that Bogart did not receive a best actor nomination that year. Which, really, if you've seen his performance, it is unthinkable. Olivier took home the gong that year. Now, I could talk about old movies all day, but let's talk about a few more things from 1949. Administrator Carnahan mentioned the GSA fleet during our interview. The first government-wide motor pool was started by GSA, not in 1949 but in 1954. Going back to 1949, the year the agency opened its doors, what do you think the average price of a new car was in 1949? Now, I'll give you a couple things to think about. It was post-war. The factories were in full production by then, so the price of a new car in 1949? >> I'm going to guess pretty low, actually. Probably around $2,000? >> Uh, 1,650. >> Okay, so I was still a little high but that's a kind of unbelievable today, when you look at the price of cars. >> Yeah, but you know, I mean, I was going through receipts from my parents not too long ago. My dad bought a pretty basic but new Toyota in 1980 for $6,000. Now, it didn't have air conditioning, but it did have an FM radio. Gas in 1949, higher than I thought. >> All right, so I think I guessed 20 cents, 25 cents for a loaf of bread. So maybe 40 cents for gas? >> 27 cents a gallon. >> Wow, that's really cheap. >> It was a little -- it was still a little higher than I thought. I thought it might be about 16 cents. And one more for you, when GSA was created in 1949, what was the cost of an average home in the United States? >> If I was thinking a car was around 2,000, so maybe 15 to 20,000 for a new house? >> 7,450. >> That's unreal. >> Yeah. Now, we weren't saying new home, we said average home. >> Sure, sure. >> Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, before we go, a few more important dates in GSA history, 1987, GSA opens the first childcare center in federal buildings. In 2000, first gov.gov, the first US government official web portal was launched. You may know it better as USA.gov. And finally, in 2007, FAS, the Federal Acquisition Service was created to efficiently deliver products and services across government. Back then, no one had a clue there would ever be a FAS Focus podcast or a way to share all these fascinating FAS facts. So don't forget, if there is anything else FAS related that you would like to learn about or someone you would like to hear featured on FAS Focus, please let me know. Send a note to GSAFASFocus@gsa.gov. That is GSAFASFocus@gsa.gov. I am Joan Cornblithe, and I put the boards together. Max Stempora is our producer. Thank you to GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan for joining us this week and thank you to GSA's media affairs team for their assistance with this week's program as we could not have done it without you. FAS Focus is a production of the US General Services Administration's Office of Strategic Communication.