FTS works to get back on course
- By Jason Miller
- Oct 07, 2004
Sandra N. Bates, Federal technology buying chief
Sandra N. Bates' career has come full circle. She began as an intern working on telecommunications acquisitions at the General Services Administration 35 years ago, now she runs GSA's $9 billion Federal Technology Service.
Bates oversees FTS' support of agency IT and telecommunications acquisitions, and administration of governmentwide contracts and Federal Supply Service schedules.
Over the past year, Bates, who is known for riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, has had to battle contracting problems at regional FTS offices. She is one of three GSA executives leading the Get It Right campaign. Bates said it is a long-term effort to improve all government acquisition.
'We need to step out, set an example and walk the walk,' she said.
Before taking the lead at FTS, Bates spent three years as FTS' deputy commissioner and two years as assistant commissioner for service delivery at FTS.
Before that, she worked for 17 years at NASA in various telecom positions and as chief of communications for all of the space agency's operational, command and control networks.
Bates has a bachelor's degree from Roanoke College.
Staff writer Jason Miller interviewed Bates at her office in Fairfax, Va.GCN: How are things going after the realignment of the Federal Technology Service with the Federal Supply Service?
BATES: I think it is going very well because in the area of IT solutions it made a clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities. FSS for many years has had responsibility of putting in place and managing the Multiple-Award Schedules. Moving the same responsibilities for governmentwide acquisition contracts over there'that made the line cleaner.
By the same token, FTS has always excelled in being the one that deals directly with the customer and buying off of whatever vehicle. So I think it made it a lot cleaner.
We at FTS are able to offer the customer greater choices, such as in the areas of professional services. This year we will have done about $400 million in business with professional services. It represents a lot of task orders, and as we open more services, it will be even greater in providing that assistance to people who need it.GCN: Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) questioned whether GWACs are even needed anymore. Why are they still relevant?
BATES: I still strongly believe that both types of contracts are needed because it represents different ways for customers to acquire goods and services. Particularly in the area of IT, it is very complicated, and one size doesn't fit all.
I believe if we were to make the decision'which we are not making'to just have all GWACs or vice versa, that GSA would be letting our customers down and not living up to our mission to provide a wide array of choices.GCN: Could agencies that issue a task order and get bids from companies that are on the schedule simply go through the same process as with a GWAC?
BATES: An agency using a GWAC must offer a chance to bid to all GWAC holders, but on schedules, you have to have a minimum of three.
There are a lot of contractual nuances. It is important that the idea of choice in how you get there is available. There is a lot of work to be done and a lot of business. We should look at [schedules and GWACs] as complementary and try and find the best approach and solution for that requirement, and not have GSA say they will only offer one way. It is not a question of right or wrong.GCN: Do you think that is what Congress wants you to do, only offer schedules?
BATES: No, I don't think [House Government Reform Committee] chairman Davis has ever implied what we should do. What he has been very strong about is to make sure we are considering everything, and he's asking questions that need to be asked. That is good.GCN: What has been the impact of the Get it Right campaign?
BATES: The Get It Right Campaign is GSA's effort to strive for acquisition excellence and covers everything GSA does, not just FTS, but also FSS and the Public Building Service. This is not just a one-time shot, but I think it will be something that we will be working on for years to come.
A lot of efforts have been going on over the last year or more in FTS, FSS and PBS, and this brings it all together under one umbrella. Rather than talk about individual efforts, we are hanging them all under the Get It Right umbrella.
GSA feels that is our role to be a leader in acquisition for government. We need to step out, set an example and walk the walk.
By having this all come under one um- brella, it brings a lot of energy and focus, and it is keeping us accountable. We have discrete action items with due dates, and it's keeping attention at the highest levels, the administrator and deputy administrator. We are briefing OMB and the Hill. This isn't something that will be overcome by events or time.GCN: You said things have been going on separately under FTS, FSS and PBS, but is this, in part, a re-action to some of the FTS contracting problems that an audit by GSA's inspector general found?
BATES: Certainly. But I think a lot of things have led to pulling it all together. We found in the case of FTS that we had our management plans in place and our initiatives that respond to the audits. FSS was working on increased training of customers and putting out additional guidelines on the use of the schedules and the Federal Acquisition Regulations.GCN: Did you feel that you had to do this and had to be proactive?
BATES: It is very important to be proactive about it. I think that one way to show a healthy and strong organization is being able to talk about the areas that need im- provement and come forth, rather than handle them offline or not talk about them.
One of our failings is the lack of communications with our customers and our stakeholders. Part of recovering and restoring'to the extent we need to restore'confidence is to talk about it and state what we are doing. We can't let it become a sideline that gets overcome by something else.GCN: I've heard there is another critical IG report due out soon about more contracting problems. What has the IG told you?
BATES: FTS asked the IG to review and audit the regional IT client support centers. They initially reviewed regions 4, 6 and 10, and the reports coming out in the next couple of months will be on the remaining regions.
We expect the draft reports sometime in the early fall and the final report sometime after that. We don't have any more specifics at this time.GCN: When the IG reports for 4, 6 and 10 came out, the IG issued an alert. Have there been any alerts for the upcoming regional reports?
BATES: An alert comes when the IG finds something during the review that they feel can't wait and they need to alert the agency right then. We have not gotten any alerts at all. [To read about the IG report, go to www.gcn.com and enter 306 in the GCN.com/box.]GCN: How are these contracting problems a reflection on FTS management at headquarters?
BATES: I think that the way we've ap- proached it at FTS and GSA is that everyone shares in all the good work and everyone shares in the work that needs improvement.
The audit reports were very upsetting and disturbing to everyone in FTS, and, for me, it is a very bitter pill to swallow. I'm involved in it just as much as any person is and we all need to correct those areas and work together. We've really come together and demonstrated one GSA, particularly at the senior management level.GCN: There is no feeling that if FTS continues to get negative audit reports, some will see you as the scapegoat?
BATES: People will always wonder whether I could have done something more. But I don't think there is one silver bullet that says 'If I only had done X, this wouldn't have happened.'
What we have put in place over the last year and a half are the remedies that are needed to fix the problems, if any, that are identified in the upcoming reports. We have really worked together in the regions and central office in trying to identify whatever it is that needs to be put in place, whether it is training, policies, procedures, help from other offices or automated systems. Things that may be identified that were weaknesses are not going to be occurring today.