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Ask Civics 101: What is the General Services Administration?

Sara Plourde/NHPR

Today’s Ask Civics 101 question: What is the General Services Administration (GSA)?

Read on for the answer.

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If you haven’t heard of the General Services Administration (GSA) you aren’t alone. There are no television shows featuring GSA employees saving democracy by submitting one purchase order at a time. In fact, they receive almost no recognition for their work. But the obscure GSA is vital in ensuring our government runs like a well oiled machine.

The GSA is like the office manager of the federal government. They oversee buildings and workspaces for a million federal workers. They purchase things like paper clips, lightbulbs, and chairs. It might seem unimportant but the FBI can’t catch the baddies if they run out of cork boards, thumbtacks, and red yarn.

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President Harry Truman created the GSA  in 1949. After World War II it became clear that an agency was needed to handle some of the more mundane parts of government work,  like record storage and gathering up supplies in case of another war.

Over time the agency accumulated more responsibilities. Today, the GSA has grown to 12,000 employees and a $21 billion budget.

While most days, the GSA operates behind the scenes, every 4 (or 8) years, it is the GSA’s time to shine. They help ensure the peaceful transfer of power between presidential administrations.

When a new president is elected, their team has a lot of preparation to do so that the new administration can be ready on day one. The GSA plays an integral part in this. 

By law, the GSA has 70-ish days between administrations to get things ready. The first step is “ascertainment.” This means that the head of the GSA determines that election results are certain enough to officially sign off on starting the transition process.

This gives the president-elect access to staff at federal agencies, internal government information, including classified security briefings, and $6.3 million dollars to support the transition efforts. 

The GSA also helps the outgoing administration move out before January 20th, at which point they turn over the White House keys to the new administration at high noon. The GSA’s role is vital to a smooth transition between administrations

The next time you visit the IRS and have to use the “facilities” keep in mind that the GSA (everyone’s favorite bureaucracy) supplies the soap and toilet paper.

If you have any questions, send them our way! We’re here for you.

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