The Business of Government Hour

 

About the show

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

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Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Bob Suda interview

Friday, August 16th, 2002 - 20:00
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Bob Suda
Radio show date: 
Sat, 08/17/2002
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Bob Suda
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Arlington, Virginia

Monday August 5, 2002

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour.I�m Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the co-chair for The Endowment for the Business of Government. We created The Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness.Find out more about The Endowment by visiting us on the web at endowment.pwcglobal.com.

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.Our conversation this morning is with Bob Suda, assistant commissioner for the Office of IT Solutions, with the Federal Technology Service of the General Services Administration.

Good morning, Bob.

Mr. Suda: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: Joining us in our conversation is another PwC partner, Steve Watson.

Good morning, Steve.

Mr. Watson: Good morning, Bob.� Thanks for joining us this morning.

Mr. Suda: Good morning, Steve.

Mr. Lawrence: Bob, perhaps you could take us through the organizations I just described in your title and tell us about the different roles and functions.

Mr. Suda: GSA, I�m sure most federal people know what that means.To them, it�s basically the landlord for the federal government. We handle buildings, we handle supplies, we handle fleet.We work on telecommunications and IT solutions.Fourteen thousand people worldwide, actually, that we�re associated with across the globe.In my area, which is FTS, we deal with telecommunications and IT solutions mostly. Telecommunications as an example means the MCI-FTS 2001 contract, which features MCI and Sprint, as well as our MAAs and local niche contracts we have in the FTS telecommunications area.

The IT Solutions area though, which I�m responsible for, which is a global organization, it�s about 800 strong, we handle IT solutions from all aspects of government, mostly DoD today, anything from small computer buys to large integration projects.I have a number of organizations in our national programs that report to me that are located here in Washington, D.C.Our FEDSIM, which is our Cadillac, or our premier organization here in the national program, handles mostly big integration projects, anything from $100 million up to a billion dollars in IT projects.

We also have a Center for Expertise, which is called our Innovation Business Solutions Office, which takes care of smart cards, it takes care of financial systems-type activity, or an

e-learning-type activity.So we have a variety of different organizations within the IT Solutions management arena.

We�re splitting the two organizations, really, inside of IT Solutions.We have what we call customer service centers, which is our front-line people dealing with our customers.Then behind the scenes, we have what we call our solutions development centers, which are responsible for developing contracts, what we call government-wide area contracts, or GWACs, and they develop them and maintain them as well as provide education on how those contracts work, what their abilities are for our customers are out there, how they should be dealt with, and to be able to provide the solutions to our customer service centers.So our solution development centers work hand-in-hand with our customer service centers to help provide that solution to our customers.

Our goal is not to provide a contract to our customers, but provide the best solution from an IT environment that we possibly can.You�ve heard Mark Forman talk about unify and simplify, and that�s our goal, to try to find the best fit, to be able to match what OMB�s requirements are and what their needs are for the future of government in the IT arena. So we work very closely with Mark�s office, as well as helping develop solutions for it, mostly right now for DoD. We do a lot of work for the Navy and the Marines, and the Army.So we do a lot of different activities.They can be anywhere from infrastructure of an operation of a facility to doing a weapons system in regards to the IT arena.

So we have a breadth of people who understand IT, who understand procurement, who are business background-oriented, and heavily involved in acquisition and contract management.Most of our staff are project management experts, so they know how to run an operation or how to run a project.Our goal is basically to be a provider or a reseller of solutions.

I use the example all the time of going on a cruise.Let�s say that you want to go to the Caribbean for a week, and you need to buy clothes for that week�s trip.You can go in and buy it off the rack, or you can go to a personal shopper. I consider FTS/IT Solutions the personal shopper.I�m going on a cruise of 7 days, it�s in the Caribbean, I need a bathing suit, I need a black tie, whatever it might be, you come back in 4 or 5 days and I�ll have as your personal shopper your solution for you.That is our goal, to provide that solution, the best fit for the organization, and that is our driving force within IT Solutions.

In 1999, we were at about $2.2 billion in revenue.This year, we will crack the $6 billion level in revenue for IT Solutions within FTS.We�re not a mandatory source.We are actually a

fee-for-service organization, so we get no appropriation from Congress.We rely on our ability to market and sell and manage contracts.

Mr. Watson: Bob, you mentioned revenue growth of 2.2 billion to 6 billion. What has driven that revenue growth?

Mr. Suda: I think from our standpoint, it is our ability to go out and talk to our customers and educate them on what services we provide to the federal government and how that can help them focus on their mission-related activities.A lot of times, a lot of agencies use a procurement shop to do everything, whether it be administrative procurements, IT procurements, or

mission-related procurements.We want the agencies to focus on their mission-related procurements.Let us do the IT, let us handle the infrastructure for them, and become a partner of their procurement shops.There is never an adversarial issue here.We just think that we can provide the expertise that they need in order to get them through the preacquisition process, through the acquisition of a solution, as well as post-manage the whole contract to its end, which it helps them get out of the firing line with industry, and we become the reseller or I guess the facilitator of the whole process for them.

Mr. Watson: You�ve described a pretty diverse organization there at ITS.What is your role as the assistant commissioner in overseeing that?

Mr. Suda: My role, I guess, is the oversight of developing the rates that we�re going to charge our customers based upon input from our regional and headquarters locations, providing policy oversight, developing guidance that helps our staffs understand both the legal as well as management review process that we need to go through to make sure we�re doing a proper procurement.I�ve been in this job, again, 2-1/2 years, like I said before, and we�ve had very, very few protests.I do about 100,000 orders a year, and I think in the last 2 years, we�ve had maybe 10 protests.So what we focus on from my headquarters level from where I sit, I�m making sure that procurements are done properly and making sure our customer service level is the highest quality in government.

On top of that, I plan and manage the business infrastructure, whether it be resources in regards to people, resources in regards to computers for what we�re doing, regardless of space or requirements.So I try to focus on the guidance and oversight of the work force to make sure the work force is in place to ensure that we�re providing our customer with the highest-quality customer service.

Mr. Watson: You mentioned you�ve been in this position for about 2-1/2 years. Can you tell us a little bit about your career leading up to being the assistant commissioner at ITS?

Mr. Suda: I came out of college back in 1975 and was an assistant controller for a small manufacturing firm back in northeast Pennsylvania.I came to GSA back in 1977, I guess it was, as an intern, as an accountant in the National Capital region located down in Southwest Washington.It�s funny, because my first day on the job, the director of finance asked me to go to a task force with our Public Building Service.If you remember back in the late �70s, there was a lot of fraud, waste, and abuse within GSA.One of my first tasks was to go out and visit a field office and look at their procurement documents and their purchase orders to make sure everything was done accurately.I actually came across documentation that led to fraud and abuse within the agency.

So I walked into an audit function when I was actually coming to a finance office and sort of built my career starting there, because at that time, I became a results-oriented person.They wanted a result, and I was there to get it for them.So I spent that first year or so on the director of finance�s staff doing special projects, work regarding accounting issues or auditing issues, things like that.So my career started off differently than what I had thought it was going to be, but it put me, I guess you could say, out front a little bit in the limelight of doing certain things.So I became known as a results-type individual.

I spent a lot of time in the National Capital region, from the 1977 to about 1982 or 1983 time frame.I came over to headquarters as a systems accountant, actually working on computer code, developing new ways of developing systems within the finance arena.In 1985, we decided to shut down or converge a lot of our 11 finances into two.We have one located in Fort Worth and on in Kansas City now, and we had 11 before.So I became the person in the National Capital region to sort of take that operation and move it to Kansas City and Fort Worth.

We had 134 people we had to relocate, where we had to find other jobs for within the National Capital region, and we did that.We didn�t fire anybody, so nobody was on the street.We found them all jobs within GSA.So, again, it was the type of thing where I was put in the limelight to do some of that type of work.

After that shutdown of our National Capital region office, I came back over to headquarters, again, in the policy and systems area within finance, as the director of our Public Building Service and FTS operations.So I understood FTS, I understood PBS from both the finance standpoint and also from a business standpoint, so I was able to walk through how they ran their operation on a daily basis.

In 1992, I guess, I became the director of computer operations for finance.I did that for about 2 years, and in 1995, I became the director of finance for GSA, as well as the first deputy CFO for the agency.In 1998, I came into FTS as their CFO.Then 2 years ago, I became the head of IT Solutions.

Mr. Lawrence: That�s a good stopping point.Rejoin us in a few minutes as we continue our discussion with Bob Suda of GSA.

Do you know what the integrated acquisition environment is?It�s one of OMB�s

e-government initiatives, and we�ll ask Bob to tell us more about it when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour.I�m Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today�s conversation is with Bob Suda, assistant commissioner for the Office of IT Solutions with the Federal Technology Service of the General Services Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is another PwC partner, Steve Watson.

Bob, you ended the last segment talking about your career, how you began and many of the financial positions at GSA.I�m curious, what was it like to go from counting the money to managing it?

Mr. Suda: Being at GSA for 25 years, you learn how to both manage as well as count money because you�ve been around so long.Knowing PBS and knowing FSS and FTS because of the position I held in the finance arena with the policy and systems, I had to understand the business. I had to understand what their role really was and what they were trying to get across to their customer.

So when Sandy Bates, our commissioner, asked me to take on this role as assistant commissioner of IT Solutions, she had a little concern about my trying to take on this big of an operation.I think the result was actually pretty good when it was all said and done.But what made it easy to transition, the people that worked for me, the associates that work underneath me, embraced my coming over to the new operation and really took me under their wing and helped me understand the procurement that they were working on, walked me through a lot of the processes they had in place.So within a 2- or 3-week time frame, that made it very, very easy to understand.

The biggest challenge I had was knowing the people�s names.There were so many people and so many locations in Washington as well as across the country that were calling me, and I�m saying who are these people?Plus industry partners calling me because now they had somebody new to come and talk to about their product lines or what their solutions were.So I think I spent a lot of time just trying to sort out what the priorities were.That was my biggest challenge of converting from accounting to managing it.

Managing a business, it�s interesting, because now our new CFO, Tony Tazone, and I spend a lot of time together talking about business issues.So we understand each other from an accountant�s standpoint, which is good, and I can give him the business standpoint from where I�m standing on why we should be doing certain things.So it works out real well.

I can give you this little scenario.Dennis Fisher, our CFO at the time, said Bob, we are never managing money, we�re always running the business regardless as the CFOs.If you look across government, the majority of the CFOs are helping run the businesses today.They�re involved in the IT or they�re involved in security, they�re involved in procurements.So there�s a lot of involvement from that side of the house now in the finance arena that wasn�t there probably 20 years ago.So I think the ability to transform or transfer your finance background to a management business background is very easy.

Mr. Watson: Bob, how is ITS using technology to become more customer-focused?

Mr. Suda: We currently have a system in place that is Lotus Notes-based that is on the web that allows our industry as well as our customers as well as our FTS associates to input data and do procurements online.It�s a little kludgy, because it�s been around for about 5 years, and you got to remember, we were at a billion or 2 billion dollars 4 or 5 years ago and we weren�t doing that many procurements.Now with the explosive amount of growth we�ve had over the last 3 or 4 years, we are right now in the process of awarding a contract to develop a new system for us, basically COTS-based.Our goal was not to build anything, not to customize anything, but try to buy it shrink-wrapped right out of the box.

We had a team together for the last year and a half that has walked through a fantastic process, that has walked us through what they call I guess the solutions development life cycle cost process.So we have every step in place, everything is well documented, and we should be awarded within the next 2 or 3 weeks the contract to do this. It�s called 3GS.It�s a new automated system.It will be web-based, totally COTS-based, and I think the ability for our customers and our industry partners as well as our associates to be able to do online procurements, online legal reviews, online management reviews, funding, and for the customer to be able to look at their funding, where they have come so far, will help us through the process of providing a very customer-friendly, customercentric operation in the future.We�re worldwide, so the problem right now is how do we deal with it worldwide?The web helps that situation.We�re literally 24 by 7 every day of the week.

Mr. Watson: Continuing with our discussion of technology, FTS developed buyers.gov, which was a pilot program offering several e-commerce services to federal buyers.Can you tell us some more about the success of the pilot and the plans for the program going forward?

Mr. Suda: We actually ran about five or six pilots through reverse auction.Our first one was with DFAS about 2 years ago, where we actually had a cost avoidance of about $2 million from our government estimate. So we thought it was a whirlwind opportunity to really push the reverse auctioning process, and we�ve done a few after that, less success but still successful.

We actually put in place in late July a government-wide area contract to do reverse auctioning, to serve as tools for our associates as well as customers to be able to use to go out and do reverse auctions and try to buy things through that process.I think it�s a wonderful tool. I think we at first thought it would be a major program, it would be a saving grace for a lot of different procurements we were doing, but there are times and the right places to use reverse auctions.I think that�s one of the lessons learned that we�ve had so far is that everything cannot be a reverse auction when you�re buying something, whether it�s a commodity or service, but there are certain niches and there are certain times when you should be doing that, whether it�s volume or whether it�s the type of thing you�re buying in order to make it happen.So it�s moving forward, but not as fast as I�d like it to move forward.I think we just have to educate people on how reverse auctions should actually be used.

Mr. Watson: There�s an OMB initiative called integrated acquisition environment. Does buyers.gov tie into that? Also, what role is your office playing in the development of the integrated acquisition environment?

Mr. Suda: I think reverse auctioning will definitely play a role in that IAE environment.The IAE environment that they�re working on out of our Federal Supply Service is moving on, and it�s focused on common services associated with acquisition.So where you may have procurement information to come into a system, or you want to be able to post procurements out on the web, it�s bringing all that data together in one environment.Right now, we have a number of disparate systems out there that are being worked, such things as what they call the FAMOUS system or the federal procurement data system that�s out there today is a little kludgy, it�s old, it needs to be replaced.Those are some of the types of things that I believe right now the IAE is focused on.Central registers, registry for vendors or for industry partners, making sure they have the number to deal with.

One of our biggest problems in government today is that everybody has their own what I want to call vendor identification number for paying a vendor, for dealing with a vendor, instead of using the EIN or one of the other numbers that are basically associated out there.This central registry I think will help that process.Again, it takes time and effort to build those databases to make sure that the information is right and accurate so everybody can use it.

But there are still going to be times when agencies need to have their own internal numbers in order to identify an industry partner.For example, on 3GS that we�re billing today on what we�re going to be buying, you need to sign on to the system, so how do you sign on to that system?You use your DONES number, you can use your EIN number, or you can use a different number.Again, it�s a security issue in how you�re going to work all those things.

We�ve had involvement in the IAE.We are working with them.We meet with them on a weekly or biweekly basis.We hope that our new 3GS system, from what we see so far, will fit very nicely into the environment that they�re building, because our operation or 3GS is a backroom business operation, which people need, and we hope that this new 3GS may become a web service, which Mark Forman has talked about in recent weeks. So we think there�s an opportunity to be able to use this system under the environment that Mark is talking about, about unifying and simplifying, because it will be a standard procurement process in the backroom managing of the finances, the project, and the development of a project.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me take you back to buyers.gov and some of your lessons learned with reverse auctioning.I was interested to hear, because I was under the impression, much like you described, that this was going to be a new wave, resulting in tremendous cost savings. I wonder if you could tell us some more of the lessons learned.

Mr. Suda: I think the biggest lesson learned is it�s not about time and it�s not about money, I think it�s the culture that we work under today.It�s a slow process to do a procurement today, it always has been.It�s faster than what it was 20 years ago, but I think people are afraid of reverse auctioning, making sure that all the backroom paperwork is done.Because you can do all this fancy stuff on the screen and make everything happen, but you still have to do the paperwork behind it to make sure that your procurement documents are in the right order, making sure you�re dealing with the industry partners and there�s not a potential for a protest when it�s all done.So there are a lot of things that are behind the scenes that you have to have some concerns about.I think when we first ran our pilots, it wasn�t thought through well enough.

The other thing is the money saved.What�s the money going for?I call it cost avoidance, I don�t call it savings, because we�re avoiding paying that bill in the future.Our biggest issue inside from a money standpoint was how do we collect the fee internally?How much do we charge for this? Is there a charge for it?Or should we get a rebate from industry on this? So there were types of things where I think we didn�t think through it far enough in order to make it happen. I think now, with the number of reverse auction sites out there, there are new ways of doing business.You can do that through rebates, you can do credits, you can do a lot of other different things that are out there.

Our other lesson learned I think is the type of things you�re buying, whether they�re unique.In our arena, we�re restricted to IT, to buy IT products.We can provide a service to buy other stuff, but then it�s on the agency to sort of run the auction, because we can provide the site and let them run the auction. We had one with the Coast Guard on buying aircraft parts.It went over real well, but we had to let them run the operation because they had to walk through all their internal procurement issues to make sure that every "t" was crossed and every "i" was dotted.

Mr. Lawrence: That�s a good stopping point.Come back with us as we continue our conversation with Bob Suda of GSA.

Agencies aren�t required to purchase from GSA.What�s it like to deal with customers who have a choice?We�ll ask Bob when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour.I�m Paul Lawrence, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers.Today�s conversation is with Bob Suda, assistant commissioner for the Office of IT Solutions, with the Federal Technology Service of the General Services Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson, another PwC partner.

Mr. Watson: Bob, agencies are not required to purchase through GSA services such as ITS.What are the challenges in convincing customers that they should purchase services through you, and how do you respond to these challenges?

Mr. Suda: I think being a nonmandatory source has actually helped our business, because people feel they have choices and they can go elsewhere.So it�s our job to really convince them to buy from us or to take our services on.

We established a sales office about 2 years ago, the Office of Sales, and that sales office now spends a lot of time doing market research and doing a lot of analysis for us.It goes out on customer visits to help customers understand how we can help them in the process.I spend a lot of time with customers.I spend a lot of time in their offices just talking about issues they may have and concerns they may have and how we can help them.

It�s funny, because a lot of it now has become word of mouth, that the high quality of service we�ve provided over the last couple of years or several years has now paid off where it�s a return of investment, people are coming back, we�re retaining customers.We have lost very few customers in the IT Solutions environment, and I think that�s good in a way.Those people talk to other people, and people like Mark Forman from OMB saying we need to centralize, we need to unify and simplify.We�re getting a lot of information from Mark, and he�s providing or preaching the FTS way of doing it or helping you doing things.So I think we�ve had a lot of people out there selling for us. I don�t want to say selling.I really want to say educating our customers, because I don�t think we sell, we just educate and help them understand how we can do a procurement better for them.

And it�s getting to the right people, either the program managers or the CFOs and CIOs, all three of those, we go and talk to on a constant basis.I think that discussions at the commissioner�s level, at the deputy commissioner�s level as well as my level; spend the time with high-level officials across government.Our administrator, Steve Perry, has gone out to various agencies in the last several months with the commissioners telling our story and telling how we can help them.They spend an hour or two hours with the customer and walk through the various things that we can do, whether it�s IT Solutions or telecom, building services, fleet or supplies, how we can help them.We�ve got a lot of business coming in that way, so it�s a matter of education.

Mr. Watson: Dealing with the other end of the supply chain, your vendors, I�ve heard you refer to them as your industry partners.How would you describe these as partnerships?

Mr. Suda: I think they�re necessary.I think if you go back, and I hate to use the date 9/11, but after 9/11, when industry partners came together to sort of work as one team, it was an incredible, powerful sight for me.We had an issue come on the table that I called over one of our contract people, vendor holders, and all eight of them from that one contract vehicle.I called them at 12:00 and said can you be at my office at 2:00 this afternoon to discuss an issue. Everyone was there at 2:00, what can we do for you?So I think the relationship that we have, again, it�s arm�s-length, obviously, because we have to be very careful in how we deal with things, but I think the adversarial things that we had in the past have gone away and it�s helped government. It has definitely helped government in the process.

There is a lot of what we call special interest groups out there that makes up government as well as industry together today that weren�t there 5 or 6 years ago. So I think we�ve come over that hump where we�ve stopped calling them vendors.One of my old bosses used to call and say, well, vendors are hot dog stand holders in D.C., and industry partners are the people that we work with. They know their stuff, we know the procurements, and they know the IT industry.So we like to be able to help and work together to solve the problems.

Mr. Lawrence: You�ve described ITS as an organization that�s national in focus, regional, and I even think global.What are the challenges of managing an organization like this?

Mr. Suda: Communications, communications, communications.It�s all about communications.In IT Solutions, we have people in Europe and people in Korea, as well as 11 regional cities, and telecommuting.A lot of it is done through e-mail, but that isn�t always effective.We do a monthly conference call with all my IT directors across the country and across the world, so we are in touch with my directors constantly.There are 13 of them all together.As well as my national programs.So every month, the first Wednesday of every month, we have a conference call to discuss issues.We also have a number of offsites during the course of the year, management group team meetings every year.

I must tell you, though, the whole 3GS process we�ve been through in the last year and a half has brought that whole team totally together.They�re all going north in one direction and one location. I think the communications, and I think the camaraderie that�s been built over this whole systems development effort has fostered and has allowed for communications, and it has allowed the IT directors across the world to really focus on what our real mission is.

So I think communication has been one thing, but I think we were lucky in having to go through this development of this new system at the same time in the last couple of years where we had this explosive growth.So that�s been a big help.

But I spend a lot of time with the IT directors either on the phone or visiting them, one or the other, or having them come into the office across the country. Europe and Korea are definitely a challenge.They�re calling me at midnight or whatever, and they get in the office at 7:00 in the morning.So my phone is by my bed, my black book is by my bed all right.I�ll take the phone calls whenever, and they appreciate that.

Mr. Watson: You�ve used the term IT directors a few times.What is the role of the IT director?

Mr. Suda: They manage the day-to-day operations of the procurements, the customer interaction, and the customer focus, as well as managing the contracts or the solutions on a daily basis across the world.Each director has a number of people reporting to him depending on the size of the region or location, and they have the ultimate responsibility to make those decisions on solutions and contracts that we�re going to be using for our customers.And spending a lot of time visiting customers locally.

Mr. Watson: Is it more of a regional focus or an agency focus?

Mr. Suda: Every service within GSA has directors of some sort across the country. We�re all in the same regional locations pretty much.So the same environment or the same structure holds true across all of our service lines.I think in FTS, we have a very good camaraderie with our regional people as well as our national people meeting together.We spend a lot of time focusing on issues that are common to all of us.And we come to find out everything is common to all of us, regardless if we�re seeing a national program work one way or in a regional program work another way.The bottom line is it still is a procurement, is a procurement, is a procurement, and I think that�s the bottom line when it comes to it, and that�s what our people on, that bottom line.

Mr. Lawrence: You mentioned communication is a key management issue.Normally, when the boss talks about communication, he or she wonders if the message is getting out.But I�m curious how you worry about listening.Again, there are so many people to listen to and such a wide group.How do you hear what everyone is telling you?

Mr. Suda: It�s a hard task, but if you don�t do it, you�re not a leader.You�ve got to sit there and listen to what they have to say and understand their dilemmas and try to help them.I think once you�ve helped them once or twice, they know they can trust you and they�re going to focus on doing things the right way.If you make a decision that may not be the right decision for them, they�re going to understand that and they�re going to say I can live with that decision because I trust in what he�s doing or what she�s doing.

I think the most important thing is to build in that trust among your staff that works for you both nationally as well as regionally, and as well as the associates across the country.I think I�ve been able to build that camaraderie and build that trust across all levels of not only ITS, but FTS, and in 25 years at GSA, I think I have a lot of people that I know across the agency that have a lot of faith and trust in what I do.So I think that all that ability or all that focus has really helped.

Mr. Lawrence: You mentioned the importance of teamwork, and you talked about how the team that�s working at 3GS had come together as a team.How else do you facilitate teamwork?

Mr. Suda: Again, we have the monthly meetings we deal with on the first Wednesday of every month, we conference call otherwise, we do a lot of newsletters from our solutions development centers.All of our IT directors are constantly talking. We try to do procurements across regional boundaries, so if there�s a procurement done in one region that is outside of a host region -- I call them a host region -- there has to be discussion and camaraderie between those two IT directors to make sure we�re charging the right rate, make sure we�re doing the right thing for the customer.If there�s an issue, they both come to me with the discussion as far as rates or how we should be doing the business.

So I think, again, it�s that trust that�s been built up, and they believe that we�re trying to do the right thing for them at the national level and at the policy level where I sit.They�re pretty entrepreneurial.I make sure that they know that they have the ability to make those decisions out there.When something goes wrong, it�s not "you�re out of here," it�s let�s work through what the issue was, identify what went wrong, try to correct it in the future, and to identify the best practices.So it�s more of a learning experience when something does go wrong, to try to make it better the next time.

Mr. Lawrence: You also mentioned telecommuting, and I�m curious as to what your experience has been with that.

Mr. Suda: A lot of telecommuting.It has to work for the individual as well as for management. If it�s not working for management and for the customer out there, when we shouldn�t be doing it.We have about 150 folks part-time telecommuting across all of IT Solutions.We have about 35 full-time telecommuters.So what we�ve seen is productivity levels go up, morale go way up, client service has been much better because they can be on-site versus being in the office all day.

One of the things I always preach when I come into the office in the morning, I wonder why people are sitting in the office.If we�re a customer operation, why aren�t you with your customer?So if you walk into my Metro Park office in Springfield, you very rarely see people sitting around, they�re all out visiting their customers, and that�s where they spend their time.They have a job to do, and that�s where the job is.

So I believe that telecommuting, it improves morale, it improves productivity, it improves client service as long as you manage it properly, and that�s always tough.But I can always see the product results, because I charge in my national programs by the hour for my service, by a percentage basis in the regions, so I can always tell what�s going on and who�s bringing in the money in order to help us do our job.If they�re not billable, then there�s something going on.

Mr. Lawrence: That�s a good stopping point.Come back with us after the break as we continue our conversation with Bob Suda of GSA.

This is The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour.I�m Paul Lawrence, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today�s conversation is with Bob Suda, assistant commissioner for the Office of IT Solutions, with the Federal Technology Service of the General Services Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is Steve Watson, another PwC partner.

Mr. Watson: Bob, how do you measure success at ITS?

Mr. Suda: My main goal is through customer satisfaction and customer retention, just make sure our customers that we currently have stay with us, and making sure that we�re delivering our services and our products on time.We have a measurement that we deal with on a quarterly basis that must be reported to our administrator, and it deals with commodities and services being delivered on time or better than what our scheduled date is.That�s one of my major driving forces to look at, but my visits to customers and seeing that they�re happy and they�re satisfied with the work that�s being done, or e-mails I get or letters I get from customers is my real measure of success.

The other one that�s more important to me is making sure our associates have a good well-being about themselves, that they�re able to balance their work life and personal life.That�s hard sometimes in our community because there is so much work that needs to be done and that we�re doing that we have people in our office at long, long hours, and trying to balance that work life and personal life is really though.I spend a lot of time with my associates making sure that they�re not in the office on weekends or late nights most of the time.There are times when you�re going to have to have that happen, but if I�m walking in the office and I see a lot of associates on a weekly basis every day of the week there until 9:00 or 10:00 at night, then I know we have a problem, we have something that�s not right, something needs to be fixed, because that shouldn�t happen.

Mr. Watson: What is your strategic vision for ITS over the next 5 years?

Mr. Suda: Continued high-quality customer service, and making sure that we have the expertise in-house to provide that service to our customers, whether it be acquisition support, IT expertise, business support, or financial support.I think without that, you don�t succeed.The workforce, I think from my viewpoint, is the most important thing that we have in our operation.

One of my things in my bio says my most important asset are my people, and I truly believe that on a daily basis.I have a tendency, and I manage by walking around. When I go to my Springfield location probably three times a week, I spend the time walking around that office during the course of the day visiting everybody, just if I have to say "hi" or whatever is going on, business-wise or personal-wise, just to stop by and see who�s there and make sure that they�re content and happy in doing their job and seeing a smile on their face versus seeing a frown.

I firmly believe that what we do for government in FTS is the right thing for government.I think we have done a tremendous job being a nonmandatory source and providing both telecom expertise as well as IT solutions for our customers out there.So I think the continued

high-quality customer service in this market is my really strategic vision for the future.

Mr. Watson: What do you see as the management challenges in achieving that strategic vision?

Mr. Suda: Workforce.Workforce I think is the key one, maintaining and trying to find the best and brightest people in the procurement arena.We call them the 1102s in the federal sector.It�s hard finding the topnotch people.They�re either working today in other agencies and don�t want to leave, or it�s just hard trying to bring them up through the ranks.Obviously, everybody looks for new people, and you want to bring people up through the ranks so they have a learning process to get through where they need to be for the future. But with the market that we�re in today, I need people almost immediately walking in the door and being able to do those procurements and managing those projects.So trying to find the right people is always tough.

I think we�ve done a pretty good job of it.We�re hired a lot of industry people in the last couple of years that either have been obviously laid off or something along those lines on the industry side, but I believe that without our staff, we would not be where we are today.

Mr. Watson: What other steps are you taking to address the human-resource challenge?

Mr. Suda: We have a number of training courses that we provide to our people.One is called Solutions EDU, which focuses on how to do statements of objectives versus statements of work.We have a forum group that we do in regards to what our contract vehicles are about, how they work, how they operate.That�s for customers, industry, as well as our associates.So we�re trying to provide a lot of training activities to them. Plus, every individual or every associate within FTS or within GSA has an individual development plan, so they have a whole set of training courses that they�re supposed to take over the course of the year, or try to take as far as getting to the next step in their career.We manage and track that so we know what they�re doing and making sure that they get the right training or education they need in their job.

Mr. Watson: Has the retirement wave impacted GSA?

Mr. Suda: It hasn�t yet.We went through a major downsizing back in the mid-�90s when we had the big buyouts, and we lost a lot of people that way.Our average age is 48 right now in the agency overall, and it�s the same in FTS as well as in ITS.But people don�t want to retire.It�s amazing.They�re not thinking about it. There�s a few that probably are waiting for that buyout to come, but I think overall, our staff is very dedicated and really wants to do a good job and believes in working for the government from a public sector standpoint that they�re doing the right thing for the taxpayer.I think that�s the most important thing that I get out of my staff on a daily basis is that they understand that.It�s not about the bottom line, it�s about doing the right thing for government.

Mr. Watson: Looking across government, what do you see as the next top technology issues for the federal government as a whole?

Mr. Suda: Obviously, security is top on the list right now, and that�s the biggest driving process or issue right now.But overall, IT architecture across government, Mark Forman is pushing that overall IT architectural process, and that�s breaking down the silos, not only with agencies but across agencies.We still have, it�s built here, so I�m going do it my way, and I think until we break down those silos, and Mark is trying to do it and I think he�s done a good job at trying to focus that way, I think we won�t get there unless we do that.I think in the homeland security way, Mark is handling the whole infrastructure for that, and the other things that he�s working on right now have really pushed the envelope differently than I have ever seen in the past, and I think it�s a good thing.

Mr. Lawrence: You said it was hard to bring people up through the system to become procurement specialists.Why is that?

Mr. Suda: It�s just the time.A lot of it is time, and you can�t do it fast enough because either it�s lack of resources, potentially, money, budget, one reason.Or not finding the time to get them trained, because what you�re winding up doing is you throw them right into the fire on a daily basis, and they�re working so hard to get through the normal day-to-day processes that you can�t have time to focus on doing training.

So one of the things we just did in my FEDSIM operation is we made it mandatory that there are 2 weeks out of the year that people basically either have to take leave or go on training, pick your own time, but people just want to build that leave up, and we�re saying you need to get out of the office because you just need that mental break from what�s going on on a daily basis.We see a lot of burnout.

Mr. Lawrence: Is there a rule of thumb you use that after a certain number of years, you�re now kind of in the groove in terms of training and experience?

Mr. Suda: It can be day one walking in the door, or it can be 10 years later.It all depends upon, again, the individual and their drive and their motivation. I�ve seen people walk in the door in 3 weeks pick it up and start doing the job, and other ones 5 years later are still struggling.It may be part a management problem or part of it being a personal proactive problem.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me take you back to our last segment where you were talking about telecommuting, and I noticed you were quick to caveat "under certain circumstances at work."I wonder if you have other lessons learned from the telecommuting experience.

Mr. Suda: I have to tell you, I think all of mine so far have been positive because I have not taken any individual off telework since I have put somebody on, because I�ve seen the morale pick up and I�ve seen the productivity pick up. We provide our staff at home now with DSL access so they have fast access to procurement documents all behind the firewall so it allows them to do their work even faster than they did it before.

I think the biggest drawback though is the lack of interaction with the people in the office.We have a picnic once a year, and when I go to the picnic I see all these new faces that I haven�t seen for the last year, and it�s like where have they been, they�re teleworkers.So I see the downside from both an individual standpoint as well as a business standpoint.Because when we our monthly associate meetings, everybody shows up.Even the teleworkers come in, but they�ll sit in the back of the room because they don�t know anybody.We try to bring them up to the front just to sort of get them focused on what�s going on within the office.

If I�m doing conversations across conference calls, they�re not involved; they don�t know as well what�s going on as the people inside the building do, either whether through gossip or whether through the chain of management.

Mr. Lawrence: What advice would you give to a young person interested in a career in public service?

Mr. Suda: It�s not about the money, it�s about providing that public sector attitude and being able to help the taxpayer and having that different mentality.When I first came into the government, I had a goal in life to become a certain level by a certain time, and I actually did an envelope and sealed it like a time machine type of thing.When I got married, I gave it to my wife at the time and I said hold this until my fortieth birthday.Open it on my fortieth birthday.So she did, and the timeline I had put down was to be the head of finance within GSA by my fortieth birthday.I missed it by one year.But it was because of drive and because of dedication because I really wanted to do the right thing for government and for the taxpayer, and it was more about that than it was about the money.

Money is decent in government.People say it�s not, but it�s decent.I just don�t think some people are acclimated to government service because they have that drive and motivation for the bottom line dollar, and you can�t have that motivation.It�s a great job, you work hard, and I think the satisfaction you get when you see something come to fruition that makes it all worthwhile.

Mr. Lawrence: Bob, I�m afraid we�re out of time.Steve and I want to thank you for joining us this morning.

Mr. Suda: Great.Thank you very much.

If you want to get any more information about FTS, you can go to on the web, fts.gsa.gov.

I had a great time, gentlemen.Thank you.

Mr. Watson: Thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you.This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Bob Suda of GSA.

Be sure and visit us on the web at endowment.pwcglobal.com.There, you can learn more about our programs and research, and you can also get a transcript of today�s very interesting conversation. Again, that�s endowment.pwcglobal.com.

This is Paul Lawrence.See you next week.

Bob Suda interview
08/17/2002
Bob Suda

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