Hazzard links users without wire

In the late 1960s, while many teens were heeding acid guru Timothy Leary's advice of "tune in, turn on, drop out," a fresh Army draftee named Larry Hazzard was tuning in to his own message.

Hazzard— outgoing program manager of the General Services Administration's Federal Wireless Telecommunications Services (FWTS) contract— was plotting the beginning of a career in telecommunications. Enlisting in the Army for four years instead of the required two was a key component of his plan.

It was a gamble: He knew he'd spend time in battle-torn Vietnam. But he also knew that signing up for an extra two years would allow him to choose his specialty. He chose radio— a decision that helped him avoid the dangers of infantry duty. The path he chose led him instead to the front lines of telecommunications in the federal government— and oversight of the eight-year, $300 million FWTS contract, which was awarded to GTE Government Systems Corp. in late 1996.

Hazzard's interest in telecommunications was kindled at an early age. When he was about 10, he got his first crystal set.

As he grew older, he dabbled in ham radio, and while in his teens, he worked the graveyard shift as an announcer at a California radio station that played light tunes. "I really enjoyed it," he said. "Problem is, you can't make any money at it."

So when the Army came calling, he leveraged the opportunity into an education. "I decided to go with technical training and something that would have a great carry-over into civilian life," he said.

During his four years in the Army, Hazzard worked as a radio traffic analyst and chief radio operator. He spent one year in Vietnam and one year in Turkey, where he filled his spare time by working as an announcer for a radio station that catered to his military group.

After the Army, Hazzard was married and headed to Sonoma State College in California, where he studied business, and his wife, Verna, studied accounting. Following graduation in 1974, he worked in an engineering department of Pacific Telephone Co., helping to design transmission facilities.

After a few years, he and Verna moved to rural Illinois to be closer to family. He found work with Illinois Consolidated Telephone Co., an independent phone company.

By the late 1970s, the telecom world began its digital revolution, and the industry was buzzing over a future that would see analog, copper phone lines replaced by fiber-optic communications.

Hazzard kept an open mind, but old-timers who had learned to handle copper lines with ease scoffed at the notion of using white gloves to handle the new and delicate fiber. Others scoffed at the notion that the world needed more bandwidth than copper wire could provide. "They'd say, 'Who needs it anyway? What do you need with unlimited bandwidth?' That's pretty shortsighted," Hazzard said. "I learned that you can't be shortsighted in this business."

Hazzard's acceptance of change allowed him to advance his career. After a few years with Illinois Consolidated, Hazzard was recruited by GTE, then-owner of Sprint. His new job meant a move to Northern Virginia.

But with changes in company ownership, rumors began circulating that Hazzard's engineering department was going to be consolidated with other engineering offices in the Midwest. The proposition didn't appeal to Hazzard, who had settled in quite well in Virginia with his wife and his daughter, Katherine, now 19. So Hazzard began looking for an employer that could offer some predictability.

"I thought the most predictable employer in terms of geographical stability would most likely be the federal government," he said.

The search for a job with Uncle Sam led Hazzard to be hired in 1986 as a communications specialist with the Patent and Trademark Office, where he worked on the Automated Patent System. Career opportunities were limited at the agency, so he looked for work elsewhere and ended up at GSA.

In 1987 he began working on GSA's Washington Interagency Telecommunications System (WITS), a telephone system run by Bell Atlantic serving federal offices in the Washington, D.C., area.

In 1993 Hazzard was appointed team leader for communications for the president's inauguration. He puts the task in the category of "challenges."

"It's a one-day event that requires about six months [of] upfront workeand probably another three months of work after that day," he said.

The telecommunications task was enormous. As many as 1,200 people were working on projects for the inauguration, and they required a range of telecommunications services— from basic telephone service to videoconferencing. Hazzard's team was also called on to solve special problems— such as when inauguration attendee Barbra Streisand needed a mobile phone.

The telecommunications challenges didn't end there. Hazzard went on to work for GSA's FTS 2000 long-distance network. From there, he became program manager for the FWTS contract— a post he recently left to work on big-picture telecom planning for GSA as a telecommunications manager.

Hazzard has welcomed the job shifts over the years. "I think it's pretty evident I enjoy variety," he said. "You never arrive at an end point. It's an ongoing journey."

But the journey isn't necessarily an easy one. Hazzard said regulations and red tape still present obstacles that add time to the buying process and prevent the government from operating more like the commercial world.

He said the greatest challenge of his job is understanding how far he can go without breaking the government's procurement rules."There are definite lines in the sand that we have to honor— in the form of regulations and laws," he said. "I think we still bump into regulatory constraints more than necessary, and it limits flexibility."

There are other lines in Hazzard's life besides regulatory "lines in the sand" and telecommunications lines. Over the past year, Hazzard has been researching his personal lines: his genealogy. For Hazzard, the process of researching his roots has been rewarding.

"It is a sense of being connected to something much larger than your immediate family," he said. "It's being connected to your society and to history."

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