Robin Carnahan, President Biden’s nominee for administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA), sailed through a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee confirmation hearing today while offering commitments to create a more user-friendly GSA and support digital infrastructure investments.

“This past year has shown the importance and the fragility of our nation’s digital infrastructure,” Carnahan said during the hearing.

“As the pandemic swept through the country, Congress responded fast with programs to meet the challenges,” the nominee said. “But yet, too often, the help was slow getting to the families and businesses that needed it most. The bottom line is no program passed by this Congress can be effective without smart investments in an effective, secure, digital infrastructure to deliver it and GSA is uniquely positioned to support that mission across government.”

If her nomination is confirmed, Carnahan hopes to increase Federal agency usage of GSA Schedules and Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) for procurement.

“I am very interested in making GSA services more user-friendly,” Carnahan said. “I know and I’ve talked to businesses that have tried to get on GSA Schedules [and] they’ve told me about how difficult that process is, and I’m interested in learning more about how we can streamline that.”

“It creates more competition, and it creates good jobs in our country if we can get more people able to sell through the government GSA Schedules,” she added. “Likewise, we can make it easier for agencies to be able to buy through GSA Schedules and make sure we’re getting the best price and the best value.”

In addition to offering cost-saving acquisition programs and technology services, GSA is also in a position to collaborate with agencies when it comes to rethinking remote work and Federal real estate.

Telework Thinking

On the telework front, Carnahan predicted that in a post-pandemic world, Federal agencies will rethink how many employees need to be at work in person, and that remote work will be a viable option for many agencies.

“This is a big opportunity to rethink what our Federal government looks like, what the future is going to look like,” she said.

“My sense is a lot of these agencies are going to be rethinking how many people need to be on-site, how many people need to be in buildings, and it’s all going to be based on the mission,” she explained. “I think that’s going to be different from one agency to the next, and our job at GSA is going to be just responding to agency’s needs as their workplace needs change. So, I know it’s a big topic, and I’ll be spending a lot of time on it, and look forward to getting started.”

Security Concerns

Another area Carnahan touched on is cybersecurity. In the wake of recent high-profile cyberattacks, Carnahan said GSA needs to evolve with ever-changing threats and ensure both agencies and the private sector are using secure tools and services.

“The main thing we all need to understand is the threats are not static, they’re going to be changing all the time. And GSA’s role in all of this is to be the implementing partner,” Carnahan said. “We’re the ones who will be helping agencies get the secure tools that they need and the services that they need and they have to be always evolving with the evolving threats.”

“So, my interest is making sure that GSA is using best practices for the private sector and changing with those threats, not being static, and automating as much as we can to be able to continue to monitor the threats,” she said.

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If confirmed by the Senate, Carnahan would take over the reins from Katy Kale, a former GSA chief of staff who was named deputy administrator of the agency in January, and who since then has been its acting administrator.

Carnahan was the founder and director from 2016 to 2020 of the State and Local Practice of GSA’s 18F organization, which functions as a technology and design consultancy within the Federal government and partners with Federal agencies to improve the user experience of government services.

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.