A driving force at FTS
- By Diane Frank
- Apr 03, 2000
You won't see the General Services Administration Federal Technology Service's
new commissioner out playing golf with her co-workers on a sunny weekend
afternoon. More likely, you'll see her decked out in leather and a helmet,
zooming down the road on the back of her husband's Harley-Davidson.
Sandy Bates, a lifelong government employee and a longtime force behind
FTS, is a motorcycle enthusiast. "Everyone knows how much I love cats...but
the one thing that usually gets people off-guard is when I tell them that
one of the things that I truly enjoy doing is riding with my husband on
a Harley-Davidson," she said.
Bates takes over the top spot at FTS this week, but she is not new to the
agency. She started working at FTS when she was 16 — living proof that the
federal summer internship program works.
In her new job, Bates said she will push to make GSA a stronger customer-focused
agency, putting more emphasis on finding out what agencies need and then
creating solutions or contracts that can help.
"We need to listen, to find out, to be a partner with them on what are
their needs — what they need from us in order to be successful in accomplishing
their agency's priorities, and then for us to craft our solutions to support
them," Bates said. "We need to shift our focus to listen and learn and then
develop solutions, rather than to lead with the solution and then listen...to
GSA as a whole has prided itself on its transformation to a customer-centric
agency, but this philosophy will require even more change on the part of
FTS employees. Bates warned her staff members as soon as the leadership
change was announced.
"I kidded with some of our staff and said that the only thing about
change that will change is that we're going to increase the pace," she said.
"I think that it's important for FTS that we move ahead."
Bates has been a driving force at GSA as second in command to outgoing
commissioner Dennis Fischer. But her passion for turning the agency into
a customer-centric organization stems largely from the portion of her life
she did not spend at GSA.
From 1979 to 1996, Bates worked at NASA's Office of Space Communications.
She eventually was responsible for the agency's telecommunications networks.
As a customer of FTS, she said she expected the best. "I think I was a tough
customer. I demanded excellence from them, but I always knew they could
do it," she said.
Bates also feels strongly about being active in interagency groups.
"I firmly believe that while each individual needs to contribute to their
agency, they have a responsibility to the larger community — the interagency
community — to contribute," she said. "There's a lot to be gained for the
taxpayer by government agencies collaborating, sharing experiences. It makes
us more efficient, and [it makes us] work better."
This week, Bates will make her first public appearance as commissioner
in one of the most public ways possible: at GSA's FTS user conference in
Dallas. The annual convention brings together agency customers, industry
partners and FTS employees to talk about changes for the year ahead. And
there will be plenty of changes this year. One of the biggest changes is
the expansion of the conference itself.
In the past, the user conference has focused almost solely on FTS networking
and telecommunications offerings. This year, FTS is bringing in people and
offerings dealing with IT solutions, notably the information security and
information assurance offerings put together by GSA's Office of Information
Much of this expansion simply is a symptom of the changes FTS and the
industry have been headed toward for years — the merging of IT and telecommunications
technology and policy. Bates said agencies rarely can think of networking
without thinking of telecom, too, she said.
The conference will be the perfect launching pad for Bates to start
working with customers in her new role. "I've attended every user forum
we've had, in one capacity or another, so I'm a known quantity to many of
our customers," she said. "But what I want customers to know is that I will
continue in this job with a customer focus and will make sure that as I
view every situation and every opportunity that I take the time and look
at it through the eyes of a customer."