FTS' Bates: 'I Want To Move Quickly'

FTS' Bates: 'I Want To Move Quickly'

Sandra Bates

Sandra Bates may have just taken over April 2 as the new commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service, but she is quickly making her presence felt.

After less than a week on the job, Bates moved forward the deadline for FTS2001, the new long-distance telecommunications program administered by her office. Bates told federal agencies and their industry partners that they must transition to FTS2001 by September, three months ahead of the previous deadline.

Bates' FTS is the GSA's information technology and telecommunications organization that provides more than $4.3 billion in products and services to federal government agencies each year. She replaced Dennis Fischer, who retired. Before taking over, Bates was deputy commissioner of FTS for more than two years and served as the FTS assistant commissioner for service delivery until her appointment as deputy commissioner in November 1997. She also worked at NASA for 15 years. She talked recently with Washington Technology Staff Writer Jennifer Freer.

WT: What are your plans as the new commissioner of the GSA/FTS group?

Bates: I don't plan on any significant changes in the direction of FTS. There are some things I want to move a little more quickly ? focusing on the customer and continue to keep FTS on a success-oriented track.

I think we have worked hard the last three years putting in place our tools: FTS2001, MAAs [Metropolitan Area Acquisition telecommunications contracts], security issues, contract offerings and industry partners.

We've got our act together in terms of our products and services. Now we need to focus on the customer and listening to them. I do want to move ahead on implementation of the MAAs, and we owe that to our industry partners and customers.

WT: How do you plan to get all the agencies transitioned to FTS2001 by September, when there already have been delays?

Bates: The plans are in place. All agencies have schedules. The three parts of our team ? the customers, GSA, the industry ? everybody is at the table with their sleeves rolled up, asking "What can I do now to help?" They are not worrying about whose particular job it is, but rather addressing what has to be done and doing it.

Let's get it behind us with a target of September, and then we have time built in, a built-in cushion, to clean up any loose ends or perfect what needs perfecting. Then we can move ahead rather than running against a wall.

Sometimes when we talk about transition status, the numbers do not necessarily depict where we are. The agencies have done a lot of work before issuing an order. Some agencies decided to get everything planned, and others have done a little at a time; and both are right but with different approaches. We are seeing a lot of orders being released, and numbers will soon tell a different story.

WT: There was talk about combining FTS and GSA's Federal Supply Service. How do you see FSS and FTS working together?

Bates: In all instances, FTS and FSS complement each other. And in the IT commodities and services arena, we do occupy that same space. I think that is healthy. I don't see that as competition. It's a different way of meeting customers' needs.

It's a widely known fact that FTS is the largest customer of FSS. Our role is as a value-added reseller, and customers come to us with a requirement. It's an excellent example of how together we serve the customer, and we would continue to do that.

WT: There are several other contracts from other agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Transportation Department, that compete with GSA contracts. What will the FTS do to stay ahead of the other contracts?

Bates: Competition is good, but choice is even better. Our challenge in FTS is to make sure that we add the value that we say we will do. We think if we focus on the customer, that will be a significant differentiator. In FTS, the IT solutions and network services are our core business. So all the focus of FTS is on that, and that is our mission.

WT: What is your view of contracts that tie a contractor's payment either to the savings achieved or to the contractor's performance?

Bates: Share-in-savings certainly has a niche. We are always looking for ways that government agencies and industry can use the share-in-savings concept and make it a win-win. But it's not for everybody. It's another way of trying to get the customer where they need to go.

Performance-based contracting is not real new, but [it is] encouraged more now. It should be looked at as positive, in terms of those companies that excel and a way they can be given credit and future opportunities. I think people mistakenly look at it in the negative, where maybe it won't be fair. But in reality, there are enough mechanisms in place that if difficulties arise, it can be dealt with today.

WT: How do all the mergers and acquisitions that are taking place affect FTS? Do you worry about the quality of competition?

Bates: We certainly have had a robust competition in our network services acquisitions. We have reaped the benefits of competition, and everybody participated. For the future in mergers and acquisitions, it's just history repeating itself. I don't know that we have cause for concern, but we're optimistic.

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