In for the long haul
Pete Fridman, a telecommunications manager at the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service, had been at the forefront of federal telecom long before the word "competition" entered the vocabulary of those buying phone service.
Fridman was involved in the evaluation of GSA's FTS 2000 long-distance service contracts, which forever changed the way agencies purchase and use telecom services by building competition into the program. Years later, he served as a leader in FTS' first large-scale procurement of wireless service, and he currently coordinates the organization's Metropolitan Area Acquisition (MAA) program, which is designed to inject competition into local telecom markets.
These jobs have given Fridman a firsthand perspective on changes in the telecom landscape over the past decade.
"GSA has always been on the leading edge of change," Fridman said. "For example, I think the vision GSA developed for local phone service was out in the forefront. There were a lot of instances in which certain areas of industry said we were going too far and that we had to wait for competition to exhibit itself. I think the first three MAA contract awards proved that competition does exist."
Those three contracts for local service in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco were awarded this year to AT&T, a company generally known for long-distance service. AT&T's pricing represents a 66 percent decrease in the rates now applied in those cities, according to GSA.
Fridman characteristically downplayed his role in the MAA program, explaining that his primary function is to "support the vision" of FTS management. But he added that he has been responsible for coordinating the work of all of the contracting personnel working within the MAA program office. "It's my job to make sure we do the procurement correctly," he said.
Unlike many federal telecom workers who came into the field when it started getting hot, Fridman has worked in this area since 1972. At that time, he worked at GSA's office in New York City, negotiating telephone service contracts for local and long-distance service. In those days, GSA had little leverage to extract competitive pricing from carriers. "You had one local phone company and one long-distance company to go to," Fridman said.
The job was not technically Fridman's first in government. He said he worked about five weeks with the General Accounting Office in 1969 until his budding federal career was temporarily derailed by a draft notice. He heading off with the Army to the demilitarized zone in Korea.
In the early 1970s, Fridman took a job with the Penn Central railroad company. But it was not long before he realized he preferred public service, and he went to work for GSA in New York. He moved to Washington, D.C., in 1979 and took a job at GSA headquarters. After brief stints at the departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development, he was detailed back to GSA to work on the FTS 2000 proposal evaluation in 1988. He never left.
Former FTS Commissioner Bob Woods saw potential in Fridman and assigned him to help lead the Federal Wireless Telecommunications Service procurement. Although that contract has not been one of the most successful ones awarded by FTS, Fridman's efforts were noted, and he was assigned to coordinate the MAA effort.
Fridman said he revels in watching the procurement process move forward. "It's rewarding to see contracts get awarded that give good prices, quality service and are flexible," he said.
"I think I've had a satisfying career," he said. "I've been lucky about the field I kind of fell in to, and and I think I have contributed to the overall societal welfare in terms of the technology we buy and prices we've gotten."As to what the future holds, Fridman will not even venture a guess. "All I know is that things are going to change over the next five years," he said. "And we will have to be ready for things we don't expect."