Carrying on a family's public service tradition

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

Benefits Administration.

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,"

she said.

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

information systems.

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.

K. Adair Martinez File

Background: Martinez, 43, was born in New Orleans. She's married to Jules P. Herbert II, also known as "Bud," who is a program manager for Subsystems Technology Inc. and is winding down a contract for user support in the Executive Office of the President.

Education: Martinez has a bachelor's degree in history and geography from Mount Holyoke College and an master's degree in information systems management from American University.

At work: In the private sector, Martinez worked for Network Solutions, SAIC, Unisys and MCI. Since 1993, she's worked in the federal government. She served as a section chief in the Drug Enforcement Administration and was responsible for all of DEA's information resources management programs worldwide. She also was DEA's database administrator. And she has been deputy director of the Justice Department's telecommunications services staff.

Quote: "Here, I really deal with the public. We help the citizens in a much more different way than I had in law enforcement."

BY Judi Hasson
March 27, 2000

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