Transparency: Even the simple things are important

Given GSA Administrator Emily Murphy's goal of transparency, the Coalition for Government Procurement says it was surprised by the recent disappearance of GSA...

This column was originally published on Roger Waldron’s blog at The Coalition for Government Procurement and was republished here with permission from the author.

In the fall of 2017, during her confirmation hearing, General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy articulated key priorities for the agency should she be confirmed to lead it. Among those priorities, she asserted a commitment to improving transparency.

Specifically, she said, “improving transparency is central to the agency’s work. Whether this means providing a database of federal real property assets, making data more available at, or improving the system for award management, transparency will not only expose flaws and instill confidence in the integrity of our government[,] but also increase competition and ultimately save taxpayer money (S. Hrg. 115–430, Oct. 18, 2017 at 10).”

Further, in concluding her opening remarks, Murphy said that transparency and her other priorities “should be applied to nearly every facet of GSA’s mission. They will provide a framework for addressing recommendations from the [Government Accountability Office] and from the IG, and most importantly, they are the key to instilling public confidence in the agency.”

Murphy is right, and Coalition members have appreciated GSA’s engagement with industry on various issues of importance, like the Schedules Consolidation initiative, e-commerce, and the implementation of Section 889. For this reason, we and others were surprised to learn of the recent disappearance of GSA’s online staff directory from the agency’s website. The directory was pulled down without warning or discussion, and it appears that it is not coming back. A simplified organizational directory replaces the staff directory, but it is not nearly as robust and informative as GSA’s original directory.

This turn of events is as unfortunate as it is antithetical to the administrator’s priorities and the path of openness to which the agency committed. Just a year before Murphy’s nomination hearing, GSA’s Technology Transformation Service kicked-off an effort to provide standard employee contact information across agencies (although, we do not know what became of this effort). A news report at the time identified as a goal the creation of a baseline of staff, office, and service data across government, in part, to help citizens access their government.

Coalition members were regular users of GSA’s directory. It provided critical information to facilitate the day-to-day work that keeps contract administration on course.  The performance of key programs, like the GSA Schedules Program, was facilitated by allowing access to this tool. Indeed, it would be interesting to collect data on the value of contract administration time saved and work completed by the mere access to directory information.

Removing the directory,  does not promote the administrator’s goal.  Nor does it manifest the intent of an agency that wishes to engage and collaborate with its industry partners.  There was great value in, and use of, GSA’s online staff directory.  It should be returned to the agency’s website forthwith.

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