Martha Johnson’s stay in bureaucratic purgatory has ended.
More than 10 months after she was nominated to serve as head of the General Services Administration, Johnson finally was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday afternoon.
The Senate had to vote to invoke cloture — essentially a motion to end debate — to break a hold on Johnson’s nomination placed by Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo. Once cloture was invoked, the Senate voted again and confirmed Johnson, 94-2.
A former chief of staff at GSA during the Clinton administration, Johnson will be the agency’s first Senate-confirmed chief since Lurita A. Doan resigned in April 2008. Since then, the agency has had four acting administrators, including its current interim chief, Stephen Leeds.
“As administrator, I will leverage the agency’s strong leadership to build a team that welcomes talent, exhibits performance excellence, collaborates, and innovates; a team that through knowledge, expertise, and transparency, will reform procurement and help move the president’s agenda for improvements in the professional acquisition workforce, Johnson said in a statement released by GSA after the vote.”
Johnson was nominated for the post on April 3, 2009, and she cruised through her June confirmation hearing, receiving unanimous support from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
But in August, Bond blocked the Senate from voting on Johnson’s nomination. He wanted GSA to close down the federally owned Bannister Complex outside Kansas City, which houses 1,200 federal employees, and to relocate staff to new office space downtown as part of a major revitalization project. GSA, however, plans to build and then own new office space in the region.
On the floor of the Senate on Thursday, Bond defended the hold and castigated GSA for failing to move quickly to close the Bannister Complex. He cited the building’s “dilapidated” physical condition, potential health risks due to reports of chemical contamination and its low 20 percent occupancy rate.
“My efforts here are about keeping 1,000 jobs in Kansas City and not about blocking one job in Washington,” Bond said.
The senator said he felt “no joy” in holding up Johnson’s nomination and conceded that her “qualifications are not in doubt.”
On Wednesday, President Obama jumped into the fray, arguing that the hold on Johnson’s nomination was preventing the administration from implementing policies that would cut waste from the budget. In particular, Obama said GSA could be saving billions of dollars by ending or renegotiating costly lease agreements or consolidating buildings and efficiencies.
“Let’s have a fight about real stuff,” Obama said at a meeting with Senate Democrats. “Don’t hold this woman hostage. If you have an objection about my health care policies, then let’s debate the health care policies. But don’t suddenly end up having a GSA administrator who is stuck in limbo somewhere because you don’t like something else that we’re doing, because that doesn’t serve the American people.”
Bond’s office fired back at the president on Thursday. “With all due respect, the hostage here is not Martha Johnson,” he said. “They are the 1,000 workers at Banister Complex in Kansas City.”
The Senate on Thursday also voted 60-37 to confirm M. Patricia Smith to serve as solicitor of the Labor Department, the No. 3 position at the agency.