FTS chief stands strong on services

Original artwork commemorating the Persian Gulf War adorns the walls of Dennis Fischer's office in Tysons Corner, Va. The painting holds a special meaning for Fischer, the commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service, because it recalls the one time in his life when he was truly scared.

The painting helps Fischer keep in perspective the travails associated with some of the more controversial programs he runs, such as the FTS 2001 procurement, he said.

"The only time in my life that I was scared was when my son was over there [in Kuwait] as a platoon leader," Fischer said. "So if someone says I need to be afraid of Vendor A or Vendor B coming at me with complaints about FTS 2001, I'd like to please those vendors. But I also know what being afraid really means."

Fischer stressed that he does not mean to downplay the importance of the FTS 2001 procurement for governmentwide long-distance services or any of the dozens of other programs he oversees. But he said he never wants to lose sight of his ultimate goal of providing agencies with the best service possible.

"When you're doing a program like FTS 2001, it is probably impossible to satisfy every angle that every bidder brings to the table," he said. "But I want to get this done. I look at every day as an opportunity to move things forward."

So far Fischer's businesslike operation of FTS has allowed such cutting-edge programs as FTS 2001 and the Seat Management desktop outsourcing contracts to inch slowly toward contract awards.

Although Fischer often characterizes himself as "a recovering bean counter," the former chief financial officer of GSA is actually no stranger to technology. In fact, his first job out of college in the early 1960s was with the Southern Bell telephone company.

"[FTS Deputy Commissioner] Sandy Bates jokes that the phones back then had cranks, so it doesn't count as a technology job," Fischer said. "But at one time, I knew how to wire an IBM electronic accounting machine. Nowadays, people look at me and ask what that is."

Fischer entered government in 1970, developing information systems for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He entered the field of finance about three years later when he took a job working on financial systems in the office of the secretary of HEW. From there, he went to the U.S. Mint, where he oversaw all of the organ-ization's policy and management issues.

In some ways, the Mint job prepared Fischer for his work at FTS. Aside from its main mission of producing money, the Mint also sells collectible coins to the public. It was Fischer's first experience running a "business" within a government agency.

After a stint back at HEW in 1986 as deputy assistant secretary for finance, Fischer moved to GSA in 1992 to tackle the CFO job— the only job for which he has ever actually applied. Then late last year, GSA Administrator David Barram asked him to take the FTS job to fill the shoes of former commissioner Bob Woods.

"I was very surprised and delighted when David Barram asked me to do this job," Fischer said. "The primary thing that attracted me was the chance to be the chief executive officer of a major function. I had been in a lot of supporting situations as chief financial officer, but the chance to run an operation was really attractive.

"I'm not a real technologist, but I've been around systems and processes for a long time," he added, "so I bring that experience and a business orientation to FTS. I tend to look at things as concrete business situations and opportunities."

Fischer uses the term "customer-centric" to describe the type of philosophy he is trying to instill within FTS. He often repeats Barram's catch phrase that GSA must "thrill" the agencies it serves if it is to survive in the new nonmandatory environment brought on by the Clinger-Cohen Act.

He even encourages his employees to offer customers solutions on non-FTS programs such as the multiple-award schedule— if those programs will save money for the user.

"You always give the customer the best solution, even if it is not a solution that we in FTS are providing," Fischer said. "If you save that customer 2 percent [through the MAS program], they will be thrilled customers and will remember you."

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