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Next week is F. Joseph Moravec’s last one on the job. After four years on the job, the commissioner of the Public Buildings Service of the General Services Administration is hanging up his cap. The man who is credited with implementing a raft of private-sector type initiatives in what was once a lumbering bureaucracy is, ironically, returning to the private sector. While he acknowledges that he was the engine of much change within the organization, he states frankly that he gained by a more enlightened age and was in fact riding a decade-long evolutionary wave wherein the GSA as a whole was absorbing efficiency tips from outside government. Regardless of first causes, Moravec (whose credentials include upper-level stints at Legatt McCall & Werner and Grubb & Ellis) leaves an organization with the freedom to address customer need and the ability to asset-manage its holdings–this primarily the result of an executive order signed by President George Bush last year. That’s a major gain for an organization that oversees some 8,000 buildings totaling 345 million sf of owned (180 million) and leased (165 million) space.

GlobeSt.com: Should we assume that your leaving means the GSA, despite all the changes, still doesn’t emulate the private sector enough for you?

Moravec: No, my leaving has nothing to do with whether or not I enjoy my job. But I’m glad you asked the question. The past four years have been a real revelation about the nature of government and what it does for the American people. It’s given me a real appreciation, even admiration, for those who make this a career. These are smart and dedicated people, motivated in many cases by love of country and by the desire to make the world a better place to live. I’ve discovered that the system, as whacky as it is sometimes, actually works pretty well, and if you know what you’re talking about, you can prevail.

GlobeSt.com: So why leave?

Moravec: I’m leaving because I can’t make a career in government. I’m getting to the point where age is becoming a factor in my employability, so I need to get repotted in the private sector. Also, I wanted to leave enough time in the President’s term for my successor to come in and make an impact. You need two or three years to apply your ideas.

GlobeSt.com: What do you bring back to the private sector? What has the GSA taught you?

Moravec: It has taught me that the business agenda is not the only agenda. That was a challenge for someone who wanted to get from point A to point B as fast as possible with the least use of resources. And I was impatient with those who thought otherwise. I’ve learned to be more patient and listen to other people’s perspective. In government you have to because it’s such a transparent environment and there are a lot of agendas other than yours. So, I’ve become more tolerant of others’ perspectives, and that’s a good lesson for any manager of a service enterprise.

GlobeSt.com: You walk away from an organization that’s much more efficient than before. What would you want to be remembered for?

Moravec: Look at our building-ownership activities, our FFO–we do track FFO–and our vacancy rate. We’ve made steady process. The Public Buildings Service is funded through the Federal Buildings Fund, which is replenished by money appropriated to our customer agencies to pay us rent at market rates. We’ve got roughly $7.8 billion a year flowing into the fund. Of that, $1.6 billion will be FFO, $1 billion of which we can assign to existing buildings and the rest to new construction. It was $1.3 billion or so when I got here. Also, through our portfolio restructuring program, we’ve accelerated the efforts to fill vacancies. The vacancy rate in our 165 million sf of leased space is 1.2%. In owned, it’s about 7%. We’ve cut it down about 3%.

GlobeSt.com: How did the executive order, signed last year, help you to further your private-sector approach?

Moravec: If space became vacant in a federal building and we didn’t have a federal tenant to take the space, we couldn’t lease it to the private sector. When we disposed of a property at the end of its life cycle we couldn’t take the proceeds and reinvest in our inventory. We’ve been trying to change the statutory and regulatory climate that inhibits us from getting the right business outcome. While no law has been passed, we did create enough energy that the President signed an executive order to support real-property asset management. So, for the first time, we now have a coherent national approach to the ownership and management of real property.

GlobeSt.com: What do you see as your other major accomplishments?

Moravec: I have to say that when I got here many of the processes and disciplines I had seen in private business were already present but in a different format. For the last decade, the Public Buildings Service had been transforming from a sluggish bureaucracy to a customer-focused, valued-adding services organization. My focus was to improve our performance as a service provider and build organizational capacity. It’s part of the President’s management agenda. This doesn’t get much attention, but President Bush is the first MBA president in history, and he’s focused on applying proven, private-sector ideas to the running of government. It’s had an impact here.

GlobeSt.com: Is that why there’s been such an emphasis on service on your watch?

Moravec: Our customers are the 100 federal departments and agencies that rely on us to provide them with workspace. We think of them and talk about them as customers. Like a good real estate-services provider, we wanted to anticipate their needs, to engage with them pre-emptively and work jointly to support their vision. That led us to what we call the Human Capital Strategy, probably the most ambitious thing I attempted to initiate while here. We redesigned all of our basic business functions, our different jobs and career paths. So here, in the national office, we essentially reinvented this 400-person organization, creating all new job structures, and we migrated our existing workforce into the new structure. Some of those people actually had to compete for jobs and, for those who were not skill-ready, we created a human-development resource center to help them find a place in the new organization. It’s resulted in a clearer understanding of what they are supposed to be doing and who they are responsible to. That’s led to a similar effort throughout regional offices.

It’s also led to the creation of a national office of customer-services management, whose function it is to work early on with customers to determine requirements, help create a strategy and oversee the implementation of the strategy. Another initiative we launched was a national broker contract. It was launched in the spring, but we were talking about it three years ago. It was designed to allow the brokers who serve us to get paid just as they would if they were serving GM. The government wasn’t set up to do that.

GlobeSt.com: You mentioned the portfolio-restructuring program. Can you provide details?

Moravec: It was one of my first priorities here, and it’s a very private-sector way of looking at our assets. We triaged them in terms of performing, under-performing and non-performing assets based on the cash flow they delivered to the fund. It’s in its third year now, and it’s gone a long way toward reducing our backlog of deferred maintenance, improving the quality of the workplace we offer our customers and streamlining our processes.

GlobeSt.com: So, to end where we began, how well-planned is your next career step? Is it back to private-sector real estate?

Moravec: That’s not my first thought. While there’s nothing wrong with making money, this experience has confirmed in me that I like working for an entity with a broader social focus.

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