FCW: Time for GSA to come clean with financials

'Public companies release quarterly reports on the status of their fiscal health. Yet, GSA, which is a steward of the public’s money, has chosen to say almost nothing.'

In a hardhitting editorial, Federal Computer Week calls on GSA to come clean with full and open accounting. In the absence of solid information about GSA's practices, FCW's Chris Dorobek writes, "Perception is pitted against reality, and in this case, it is no contest. Perception wins because people don’t have information on which to base their own assessments." Since the piece is short and the message important, here it is in full:

We don’t usually write about the difficulties we have getting information. As a rule, readers don’t care — and rightfully so. But the case of the General Services Administration is unusual.

It is hardly news that GSA has problems. Those problems are multifaceted and have been building for years. But some people question whether GSA’s leaders understand the scope of the agency’s problems. That doubt is heightened because GSA’s leaders have refused to provide information — primarily financial data — that could alleviate some of those concerns.

GSA officials believe they have a plan to deal with the problems and to put the agency back on a successful path. Fairly or unfairly, many people just don’t trust them. So much smoke surrounds GSA right now that most observers believe the fire is more severe than GSA officials have suggested.

Perception is pitted against reality, and in this case, it is no contest. Perception wins because people don’t have information on which to base their own assessments.

GSA faces a perilous time. Its customers are frustrated, its employees are demoralized or fleeing, and industry is concerned about what the agency’s problems will mean for an already problematic procurement environment.

GSA’s decision not to provide details about its financial health only furthers this perception that the problems are worse than we know.

GSA has never released extensive financial information. But this is an unusual time in the agency’s history. Its officials have argued that the financial numbers are constantly changing. Yet, they are making decisions based on those numbers.

GSA wants to operate like a business, and releasing financial information would be an important step in that transformation. Public companies release quarterly reports on the status of their fiscal health. Yet, GSA, which is a steward of the public’s money, has chosen to say almost nothing.

GSA officials have also said that focusing on the numbers only causes people to look backward rather than forward.

On the contrary, we don’t believe GSA can begin moving ahead until officials make a full accounting of the breadth and scope of the issues.

Opening the financial books is the only effective way to deal with the rumors and concerns. We have offered GSA officials various ways to tell their story in their own words. We repeat those offers.

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