Hey feds, this is not your father's FTS

It felt more like a rock concert than a press conference at the General Services
Administration's TechFest this month, but that's part of the new hip image GSA wants to
create.


GSA held TechFest to emphasize the name change of the Federal Telecommunications
Service to the Federal Technology Service.


GSA Administrator David Barram addressed the crowd via a large video wall on a stage
littered with colorful electric guitars and splashed with red, white and blue stars
projected from stage lights. He said there was change in the works for the sometimes dull
GSA.


"We don't want to just exist anymore," he said. "We want to be the best
in every area."


Barram said GSA has excelled in the telecommunications field by letting every federal
employee make long distance calls for between 2 cents and 5 cents a minute. His
commercial-like speech parodied actors in phone company ads offering phone service for 10
or 15 cents per minute.


Despite the successes of the past, though, GSA will be a different administration in
five years, he said. No longer will FTS concentrate just on phone service.


Instead, Barram said, the emphasis will be on providing federal agencies with systems
that can accommodate voice, data and video transmission.


FTS will work with its contractors, many of which had booths at TechFest, to provide
cutting-edge technologies at low prices, he said.


"No one else in government is as well-positioned," Barram said.


FTS commissioner Robert J. Woods, who soon will leave for a job in industry, was more
specific about changes. FTS, although a government agency, would live or die by the bottom
line, he said.


"We are going to operate with profit-and-loss issues in mind," Woods said.
"We are going to go out there and make federal technology mean something."


Federal smart card use, shared access to large databases and electronic commerce are
some of the projects FTS can help federal agencies work on, he said.


"Our goal is not to sell them technology," Woods said. "If they want to
just buy technology, then they can go somewhere else. We are going to partner with
them."


Woods said FTS personnel have always looked at profit-and-loss statements. The
difference is that now they will pay attention to them, he said.


"FTS is as business-oriented as any private firm," he said. "We are not
just a phone company anymore."


After the speeches, a band played a selection of songs as FTS' new mascot, a giant bear
named Techy Teddy, greeted guests with hugs and gifts of stuffed animals.


About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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