Former FTS Chief Fischer Looks At Road Behind, Road Ahead

Former FTS Chief Fischer Looks At Road Behind, Road Ahead

Dennis Fischer

From his new perch as vice president of government solutions at Visa USA, Dennis Fischer sees a government marketplace under continuous change as new players enter and old players rebuild themselves through mergers and acquisitions.

Fischer, former commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service, joined Visa USA in April after spending almost eight years at the GSA. He served the first five years as chief financial officer, the last two and a half as commissioner of Federal Technology Service. Among his tasks were overseeing FTS2001, GSA's $5 billion long-distance contract awarded to WorldCom Inc. and Sprint Corp. in early 1999.

Fischer spoke with Staff Writer Jennifer Freer about a wide range of topics, including the failed merger between WorldCom Inc. and Sprint Corp., recent mergers and acquisitions in the government space and technology to watch in the coming months.

WT: What impact did the proposed merger between WorldCom and Sprint have on the FTS2001 program, and what does it mean for the program now that the merger has been called off?

Fischer: When I was there, we went into the contract wanting two companies to be competitive, and Sprint and WorldCom won. When I heard about the merger, I really became concerned. Where does that leave FTS2001 and its strategy for added competition?

The FTS2001 contract was continuing to face the issue of future competition. Other companies were supposed to be allowed to offer services under FTS2001 and new services were to be added. What about AT&T and Bell Atlantic and others that have gotten the ability to offer long-distance service? My sense was that it was not a matter of "if" but of "when" the other entrants came into the market, and the merger of WorldCom and Sprint would have increased the pace of adding that competition to FTS2001.

I didn't notice any impact on us as a result of the merger being planned or of it unraveling. I look back on it and say it was one of those interesting things, it came and nothing happened, although we spent some energy trying to get ourselves positioned and handle the inquiries. It was not a major event, but if it had happened, it would have changed the strategy at FTS in terms of the timing of bringing in competition.

WT: Is the push by many companies to offer one-stop shopping to government customers helping to drive some of the mergers and acquisitions we are seeing?

Fischer: I think so. One of my observations about government is that we had a lot of trouble when we tried to integrate the efforts of several different companies. What I have seen over the last several years is the government wants to buy solutions from one party. Government doesn't want to worry about the solution being provided by 15 different entities. It wants one integrator to deliver it all.

The way government buys its services may be driving some of the mergers. Companies realize they need the capacity to offer many services to round out their offerings to the government customer. Building the services takes much longer than buying a company that already offers the service. I think that may be going on, and I think it will continue.

WT: FTS2001 has had many problems and delays this year. What do you think has been the major cause of those problems?

Fischer: One of the things that I think drove the delays was change. Someone said to me once, "Change is great. You go first." And I think in the government space, when you have service that is working and you are satisfied, it's very hard to come along and have the agencies do a whole lot of work to change over. Some agencies bought into that philosophy and knew they could upgrade their services. Those agencies looked at FTS2001 as an opportunity to upgrade their services and get more modern.

Some agencies didn't have the resources for it. In many cases, the telecom company had a certain capacity and sometimes the requirements of the government agencies needed more network capacity than the companies could offer.

The transition into FTS2001 seems to be wrapping up, but I'm sure there were things that FTS could have done, and things WorldCom and Sprint could have done, and even things AT&T could have done to speed up the process. It's going to get done.

The disappointing thing is that some of the agencies missed an opportunity to upgrade their telecom services. Some agencies just didn't have the vision to take the next step, some were afraid and some just weren't ready for change.

WT: What areas in the government do you see growing in the future?

Fischer: I definitely see e-government, security and information assurance growing. They are big-ticket application areas.

One of the things I think we are going to see an explosion of in the technology area is utilization of smart-chip technology. The Defense Department is interested and plans to give every member an ID card with a chip. I think the next migration is the chip. I think the government and industry are moving on it.

The whole idea of mobile communications and being able to work in various locations is going to keep growing. The challenge is that the work force is going to get smaller in terms of numbers and experienced people and you will have to use technology to leverage that capacity to get the government work done.

WT: How has your past work in the government helped you in your new position at Visa?

Fischer: I work with Visa USA, and my responsibility as vice president of government solutions is to work with member banks that serve the government, which are Bank of America, CitiBank and US Bank. I try to help the banks where there are difficulties, help find areas of opportunity, leverage the contacts that I have, and try to think of ways to grow the business.

I wouldn't be here if I didn't have the past government experience. It's not because of the Roledex. I do know a lot of people, but I'm here because I understand government and I've been inside of it. I miss government service, but I'm enjoying this too.

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