Carrying on a family's public service tradition
- By Judi Hasson
- Mar 26, 2000
The family history of K. Adair Martinez is full of people in military and
public service, so it seems natural that she is eagerly taking on the job
of chief information officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs' Veterans
Martinez, whose father was a career Coast Guard official and a French
translator, was born in New Orleans. She was named Adair to carry on a family
name. During the War of 1812, Gen. John Adair led a group of Kentuckians
who fought the British in the Battle of New Orleans. When the general later
became governor of Kentucky, from 1820 to 1824, the family's tradition of
public service was born.
Martinez is the protector of millions of veterans' records. She is responsible
for making sure all systems are operational so that veterans can get their
benefits, including insurance, loan guarantees and pensions, on time. "How
can you be against that mission?" she said.
Among her department's achievements over the past year is placing 10,000
disabled veterans in white-collar jobs, using computers to match them up
with the right employer.
Martinez has a long resume as an information technology specialist.
She's worked for IT firms of all sizes, including Network Solutions Inc.,
Science Applications International Corp., Unisys Corp. and MCI.
But she has found her work in government to be the most rewarding. She
began working in IT at the Drug Enforcement Administration in 1993 and later
was the deputy director of the Justice Department's telecommunications staff.
In that role, she managed all of Justice's telecommunications programs,
operations and services, and consolidated the telephone network. "It was
a major new initiative to make them play in the same sandbox together,"
At Justice, Martinez managed fewer than a dozen employees, but now she
oversees nearly 1,000 workers scattered across the country.
Throughout her career, Martinez has received high marks from her colleagues.
"Adair is a quality manager. If I told her there was a spot on the rug,
she'd replace the rug. She doesn't just fix the symptoms — she fixes the
problem," said Phil Camero, the DEA's deputy assistant administrator for
Martinez said her goals are not to be driven by technology but to use
business techniques to deliver benefits. "Are we obtaining the best value
for our IT investments? Are we working on the right information systems
project to provide the most value to the business of each service? Will
information systems applications meet future business requirements of each
service?" Martinez asked.
Her biggest challenge is dealing with the dwindling work force at VBA.
Over the next five years, nearly half of the agency's IT workers will be
eligible to retire, forcing the government to train new ones or shrink an
agency whose mandate will only increase as veterans require more services.
"The aging of the IT population is a big problem," she said. "We are
trying to do succession planning, but 47 percent of our claims processors
have been here for less than three years. How do I build systems and bring
in vital new people?"
Perhaps this will be the legacy she leaves.