On March 30, 2012, Tangherlini got a call from the White House. The assistant Treasury secretary had been on vacation with his family, but four days later, he held his first staff meeting as acting administrator of the General Services Administration.
The agency was in a state of turmoil. His predecessor, Martha Johnson, had resigned before the release of an inspector general’s report disclosing lavish spending by GSA employees during a four-day conference in October 2010. The report was damning: Officials had spent more than $800,000 on airfare, extravagant meals, commemorative coins—and a mind reader. The White House condemned the boondoggle as “a complete violation of administration rules.”
Enter Tangherlini, a well-respected public servant who has served in the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Transportation Department, and the District of Columbia government. “I wouldn’t say it has been stressful,” he says. “My brother is a firefighter in San Francisco—that’s what I would consider a stressful job.”
Earlier this year, President Obama nominated Tangherlini to take over the agency on a permanent basis, and the 45-year-old has vowed to restore GSA’s reputation. During confirmation hearings, he testified that the agency has “engaged in a comprehensive top-to-bottom review” and has slashed nonessential spending across the federal government. “There has been natural organizational resistance,” he says. “I’ve met a bell-curve distribution of support,” with some GSA employees in favor of reform and some adamantly opposed.
Before that fateful phone call last March, Tangherlini was the assistant Treasury secretary for management. Earlier, he was director of Treasury’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.
Tangherlini, a Massachusetts native, holds a B.A. and M.P.P. from the University of Chicago and an M.B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. He came to Washington as a presidential management fellow at OMB and later worked in the Transportation Department’s policy office before being named chief financial officer for D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department in 1998. From 2000 to 2006, Tangherlini was director of the District’s Transportation Department, followed by three years as city administrator and deputy mayor.
Correction: An earlier version of this story listed Tangherlini's title as "acting administrator." He was confirmed on June. 27.