GSA rate-cutter wired into savings

Margaret Binns the General Services Administration official who can be credited for reducing the rates agencies pay for local phone service didn't know much about telecommunications when she became assistant commissioner of field operations at GSA's Federal Tele-communications Service.

But that didn't trouble Binns or keep her from leading the charge that has decreased the average amount agencies pay for local telecom links from $24.16 to $19.97 per circuit per month with further reductions expected this year. She has fashioned her career so that each new job has presented her with a fresh set of challenges. She served in a series of information resources management jobs at the Federal Aviation Administration including acting deputy associate administrator for IT. Earlier in her career she held positions unrelated to information technology in the Navy and the Federal Highway Administration.

"Throughout my career I have had opportunities to learn a lot of different things " Binns said. "I've always gone into jobs where I had an opportunity to learn different things."

She arrived at GSA at a time when the agency was in the middle of extensive downsizing and undergoing extreme pressure to make its IT and telecom services more palatable to users in other agencies. "A lot of people thought I was crazy to come to GSA and they articulated that pretty firmly " she said. "But I don't think there is anything more exciting to be in than telecommunications.

"I would never in the world have put this job in my long-range career plan " she continued. "But I've never had a long-range plan anyway."

Binns entered federal service in the early 1970s almost by accident. After obtaining a bachelor's degree in political science Binns traveled to Richmond Va. to take a civil service entrance exam - mainly because it gave her a chance to visit an old friend. To her surprise she received a job offer from the Navy an agency for which she never expected to work. "This was the early seventies we were all liberals then " she said.

She spent three years at the Navy as a management analyst developing staffing standards and performing analytical studies. After she left the service Binns worked for nine years as a management analyst and team leader at the FHA. While working on a review of an FAA automation program she met an FAA manager named Bob Woods who hired her to work in the agency's IRM office.

Woods of course went on to become commissioner of the Federal Telecommunications Service and brought Binns to that organization in 1994. Seeing an opportunity to have some impact in the burgeoning field of federal telecommunications Binns accepted her current job about a year ago.

Binns said Woods was aware of her lack of telecom expertise but he knew she could handle the job. "Bob said 'Margaret I've got people who know telecom. I need people who can deal with agencies industry and the Hill ' " she said.

She immediately set out to forge alliances with other officials on Woods' staff as well as those in GSA regional offices. She said she and her colleagues were able to trim the agency's internal local-service program costs by 30 percent resulting in savings passed on to agency users. Binns said she encountered "some struggles" in her attempts to get GSA telecom professionals to cut their operations so drastically. But she said most of them realized it was a do-or-die proposition because GSA's authority to force agencies to use its local service offerings was being rescinded. "If we were still sitting at $28 per line we'd be dead meat " she said.

Binns also spends much of her time with other agencies finding out how GSA can do a better job serving them. "We're trying to change the way we offer our services " she said. "We're trying to work with agencies here and around the country to take advantage of deregulation. One of the things I did at FAA was to manage a regional IRM group " she added. "I know that the regions are where the work and expertise are. You can ultimately make things work by involving those people."

Binns said she wants to continue building relationships with telecom vendors especially newcomers poised to enter the federal market. She said many of these companies are enthusiastic about her Metropolitan Area Architecture program to recompete local service in selected urban areas. But she also maintains close contact with the regional Bell operating companies that traditionally have held that business."I meet with anybody who wants to come into the door " she said.

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