Obama Administration Official Visits the Darden School

06 February 2012

U.S. General Services Administrator Martha Johnson told University of Virginia Darden School of Business students Thursday, 2 February, that the massive federal agency she leads is a nimble catalyst for innovation, eager to takes risks and make Americans’ lives better and greener.

“You have to take risks,” says Johnson. “But you make them smart risks. The GSA is the epicenter for smart risk-taking in government. At the GSA we need to try things in part so the whole government doesn’t have to.”

That’s not your father’s government-gray General Services Administration.

Johnson, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the 19th administrator of general services in 2010, was the keynote speaker at the kickoff of the two-day Darden Business in Society Conference sponsored by student clubs and Darden’s new Initiative for Business in Society, a research center which explores business’ role in society. She also spoke as part of the Darden Leadership Speaker Series, which features the world’s thought leaders.

The GSA is huge, Johnson emphasizes. It guides nearly $95 billion of federal purchases annually. It manages 220,000 federal vehicles. It contracts for 10 million government-related trips a year. And it manages 370 million square-feet of space “located at every altitude and in every climate.”

The GSA sets government policy, runs the big government call centers and web services, and disposes of federal real estate and other unwanted items — such as two million space shuttle-related objects. “We’re kind of into everything. It’s a joy to have this job and these stories to tell,” she says.

President Obama’s directive to Johnson is to help create an America that “is built to last,” she says. That includes finding smart energy solutions. “We’re shifting from one or two energy solutions to a belief that there are many such solutions. That there’s no silver bullet but silver buckshot. Let’s see what hits where,” she says.
With just a fraction of fossil fuels located in the United States, “we need renewable ideas,” Johnson says. “This is where the GSA beams.”

“I travel around the country and see the weirdest things. Oil drillers who are now geothermal drillers. Roofers who install solar panels.” The GSA has embraced the sustainability agenda with a goal to leave a zero environmental footprint, Johnson asserts. “We don’t know how we’ll get there, but we need to strike the strongest stance we can.”

“We’re doing hundreds of things on the sustainability front,” she says, including experimenting with all-electric cars — about 100 of them. “It’s not exotica to us. We own buildings with charging stations. We can do the whole package.”

Johnson says one huge GSA-owned building in Indianapolis is “football field size” and has six different solar panel technologies installed on its roof. “We have the scale to do this experimenting.”

She told Darden students that as good citizens they need to “demand of your government that it be sustainable … allow it to take risks. We’re the innovators. We’re at the edge. We’re willing to try. We are the big engine that could.”

Following the keynote speech, Johnson led a roundtable discussion on sustainability, innovation and President Obama’s State of the Union address with business leaders from the Charlottesville community.

The Darden Business in Society Conference is an annual event co-organized by the student-led Net ImpactEnergyBusiness & Public Policy, and Education clubs, with support from the Initiative for Business in Society. Friday’s conference highlights included panel discussions on topics ranging from corporate sustainability to green supply chains.

View Johnson’s full presentation.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Press Contact

Sophie Zunz
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia