The General Services Administration was in a tailspin when Daniel Tangherlini was named acting head of the government's real estate arm last year. His immediate predecessor abruptly resigned amid scandal, and a revolving door of administrators over the past decade had left the GSA hobbled by instability.
But 15 months later, federal officials appear confident Tangherlini is well on his way to righting a badly listing ship. President Obama tapped him in May to be the agency's permanent director. And when the Senate approved his confirmation in late June, it did so by voice vote, a maneuver reserved only for nominees with overwhelming support.
"Over the past year, Mr. Tangherlini has led an impressive turnaround of GSA, and I am confident that he will continue this good work as administrator," said Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., whose committee approved his nomination.
The task won't be easy for Tangherlini, 45, who has degrees from the University of Chicago and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The GSA, which manages federal property and vehicle fleets and purchases goods and services for government agencies, is an immense and complex bureaucracy too often run in less than transparent fashion.
The agency was rocked last year after a scathing inspector general's report showed "gross misuse of taxpayer dollars." The probe highlighted an $800,000-plus training conference for 300 GSA employees in Las Vegas in 2010 that featured a mind reader, bicycle giveaways and lavish after-hour receptions.
Then-GSA Administrator Martha Johnson fired two deputies and suspended other career employees over the incident, but the report said she ignored inspector general's warnings about a pattern of excessive waste, fraud and abuse by one of her top executives. Johnson resigned soon after the scandal broke, and Obama brought in Tangherlini to do damage control.
By then Tangherlini had earned a reputation as a straight arrow and deft policy adviser and money manager, first with the District of Columbia government, where he served as city administrator and deputy mayor from 2006 to 2009, and later as the Treasury Department's chief financial officer.
When Tangherlini left city hall, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty joked that more than one person had approached him to say, "I'm really surprised Obama hasn't stolen Dan away from you."
Tangherlini also comes across as affable and humble. When asked why he likes taking on high-profile crisis management jobs, he said his work is easy compared with his firefighting brother.
"He literally goes into burning buildings — I just do it metaphorically," he said. "I just like it when your skills and ability and your knowledge and relationships are most challenged and there's an opportunity to make the biggest difference."
White House Correspondent Susan Crabtree contributed to this report.