Keeping the lines open

Bob Bubniak, associate deputy assistant secretary for telecommunications at the Department of Veterans Affairs, acquired a profound understanding of the importance of telecom early in his career. As a second lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps, Bubniak found himself deployed to Germany in 1961 - just about the time that a wall was being built to separate the eastern and western sections of Berlin.

"I learned quickly about the absolute necessity of telecommunications," Bubniak said. "At the time, there was real concern that the world was still very unstable, and war was considered imminent."

Bubniak worked as a wire officer in the beleaguered country and ensured that wire and cable systems were provided to the Army personnel who needed them. With tension running so high at the time, any loss of communications was considered critical.

"That imbued me with a sense of providing telecommunications services when needed," Bubniak said. "I learned early that people don't care why their telecommunications services don't work; they just want service. It gave me a focus on outcomes and results."

This appreciation of the criticality of telecom led Bubniak into a career of more than 30 years of overseeing the systems that military and civilian workers use to communicate with each other. His work ultimately took him to Vietnam, where he provided VHF and UHF systems to

forward-deployed units during the war. He also spent some time at the Environmental Protection Agency and 11 years at the State Department before his arrival at the VA last October.

This year, he was elected chairman of the Interagency Management Council (IMC), a group of federal telecom executives who advise the General Services Administration on how to best meet the needs of federal users through vehicles such as the FTS 2001 long-distance contracts. In this position, Bubniak may be better positioned than just about anyone to influence the future of civilian telecom initiatives.

Despite his early education in the importance of telecom, he did not enter college or the military with such a career in mind. Bubniak envisioned a career as an English teacher when he graduated from Syracuse University in 1961.

Bubniak surmises that when he was commissioned into the Army Signal Corps that year, someone must have looked at his major, which he abbreviated on his entrance form as "ENG," and assumed he was an engineer. However it happened, he ended up in Germany and on his way to a career in telecom.

After retiring from the Army in 1983 as a lieutenant colonel, Bubniak worked briefly in the private sector before accepting a job as deputy director of telecom at the EPA. Four years later, he moved to State.

He views his years at State as an extremely fulfilling period, and he speaks with pride about an "exceptional" contract he awarded to AT&T in 1993 for the department's Consolidated Telecommunications Services network. The network combines voice and data services not available through GSA's FTS 2000 contract.

"The contract enabled me to provide ubiquitous voice, data and video services under one umbrella," he said. "Everything in the telecom world is zeros and ones now. The business of convergence - from the management perspective as well as the technology perspective - is something people have been talking about for a decade or more. I started the push for that at State, but there is still resistance in some organizations there."

Bubniak has continued to push the envelope at the VA. He plans to take the unusual step of replacing the VA's private data network with service from Sprint on the FTS 2001 contract and hopes to farm out network management functions to the company. He views this as a trend that other agencies have begun to consider as well as a way to save money.

Not surprisingly, he said he took over leadership of the IMC for the opportunity to be part of the revisions taking place across government.

"These are exciting times," Bubniak said. "With the changes that are transpiring throughout government, it just seemed to be the right thing to do to assume a leadership position."

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