Letters to the Editor

GSA blunder not just in the ‘fine print’, it's in bold too | Letters

Those who read Sarah Hanson’s column in last week’s Journal (“Right there in the fine print; GSA’s bureaucratic blunder”) will be surprised to hear that the General Services Administration (GSA) prides itself on its transparency.

The GSA devotes an entire web-page (www.gsa.gov/portal/category/26751) to demonstrating their adherence to the Open Government Initiative of 2011, a multilateral international initiative the United States is taking part in.

Visitors to the site will find the following text prominently displayed: “President Obama’s Open Government Directive instructs all federal agencies to actively open their operations to the public. GSA’s efforts are rooted in three principles at the heart of the directive: Transparency, Participation, and Collaboration.”

Yeah, I know. Let that quote sink in. In no way does it resemble the procurement of Customs offices in Friday Harbor.

There were no public meetings or announcements before the lease was signed or communication with town officials. What opportunities existed for “participation and collaboration?”

Despite numerous citizen attempts to communicate, directly and through U.S. Representative Rick Larsen, islanders have had only one in-person contact with the GSA, and it wasn’t pretty.

At the public meeting with Customs officials on Nov. 25, a senior GSA representative, turned the issue around saying that “the community should have known”  about the procurement process for Customs offices, when earlier in the meeting, the representative offered that GSA has the option of using a public process, but that it was not chosen in Friday Harbor.

Perhaps some old hats in the GSA are used to behaving in a manner in which citizen input is either not solicited or completely overlooked since the Government Openness Initiative is only three years old. However, such a lack of transparency and responsiveness from a government agency is completely out of step with the initiative.

It may even constitute a violation of federal law, as Ms. Hanson observed last week.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Port of Friday Harbor receives my commendation for the open process they have chosen for their proposed building project. The Port Commission has involved citizens extensively, and respectfully valued their input at every step. The GSA could learn a few things from their example.

It is up to us as citizens of this beautiful island to hold government officials to their own principles and regulations. Let’s continue to stand up and communicate how unsettled we feel with the behavior of the General Services Administration.

Anyone concerned please contact the head administrator for Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies at the General Services Administration, David L. McClure; (202) 501-0705, or email him at david.mcclure@gsa.gov.

Ashley Rugge/San Juan Island


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