WASHINGTON (04/03/2000) - You won't see the U.S. 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 the customer." 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 Security.
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."
The Sandy bates file
Title: Commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service Background: Bates started at FTS as a summer intern when she was 16. When she wasn't working for FTS, she was a customer, "demanding excellence" from FTS during her stint at NASA from 1979 to 1996. She has served on many governmentwide programs, including as chairwoman of the Interagency Management Council in 1995.
Employment: Bates oversees the management and creation of some of the government's most widely used information technology and telecommunications contracts, ranging from outsourcing desktop management to securing networks.
Personal: She met her husband while working at FTS, and the two spend many weekends taking trips to their beach house or riding her husband's motorcycle.
They meet fellow riders at Patriot Harley on Route 50 in Fairfax, Virginia. "We enjoy riding the Harley, and the folks around here get a big kick out of thinking of their commissioner with my helmet and my leathers and my full regalia."
Quote: On her first FTS job: "The family that lived across the street from me, the man worked at GSA and headed up the finance office. He told me about the fact that GSA was hiring summer employees, so I said, 'Well, gee, can I apply?'