Hitch: In the eye of info sharing

Justice Department chief information officer Vance Hitch came to the department with a vision for change.

Faced with an organization undergoing a mission shift after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Hitch knew the department's information technology also needed to be transformed.

"To accommodate a new mission and a new marching order required a lot of change," he said. "We were just a sum of our components. Today, I believe we have to lead the department with strong IT."

With mandates for improved information sharing, Hitch was put in charge of transforming Justice from a collection of autonomous components to a department with a single IT strategic plan and technology policies.

He joined the department almost two years ago and took the reins as CIO a few months later.

He worked for 27 years at Accenture as an IT consultant in fields ranging from telecommunications to health care to government. In his work with government clients, he collaborated with agencies on major projects, facilitating change.

"The problems you face [in the government] are the same ones that I tackled in the private sector, but bigger," Hitch said. "That's why I came here. I wanted to make a difference."

Although his work as a consultant prepared him for his new role, nuances of working in the public sector soon became obstacles. For example, his tenure began in the middle of a budget cycle, so he was trying to effect change with someone else's financial priorities. But he knew he had work to do, and much of the time, he said, he was working hand-to-mouth with the funding.

Hitch's first order of business was a major reorganization of the CIO's office. With a new department strategy focused on counterterrorism and information sharing, the CIO's office needed an IT strategic plan aligned with the new mission, he said. This meant significantly upgrading skill sets to ensure that employees could take on major IT areas, such as enterprise architecture, security, project management, business process re-engineering and e-government.

"Our participation and skill sets were not adequate," he said. "What I was trying to do was a different mission than was being done before with the people who preceded me."

The reorganization also meant that the CIO's office had to bring together each of the department's components under a single vision. Before, each focused on its own IT projects and spending, and Justice's culture grew around that independence. Relying on strong support from top management, such as Attorney General John Ashcroft, Hitch rallied the CIOs, and about a year into the effort, he is beginning to see change.

"The IT community can actually be leaders in the information-sharing arena, because they are a little more used to working together than others," Hitch said. "I view IT organization as very closely aligned with our mission. I don't view us as a support organization."

To stay sharp in his role as a herald of transformation, he starts almost every day with exercise. A morning workout helps clear his mind, he said.

Hitch has also taken up ballroom dancing with his wife, Fran. He said they are slow learners, and have taken individual lessons to perfect their swing and fox trot. They also go to their beach house in Stone Harbor, N.J., in the off-season and during the summer.

They also find refuge for one week each year when they travel to figure skating championships and events. "She's a real figure skating fan," Hitch said of his wife, and the two have traveled the country — Nashville, Tenn.; Philadelphia; Boston; and Cleveland — for winter vacations as skating spectators. But having lived in the Washington, D.C., area for nearly 30 years, he said he always wants it to be his home base.

He grew up in Haddon Heights, N.J., a Philadelphia suburb, and received an undergraduate degree in physics at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa. During his last year of a four-year stint with the Navy, Hitch moved for a job at the Pentagon and worked toward a master's degree in systems management at George Washington University.

And now, after about a year and a half as Justice CIO, Hitch said he sees the work continuing for another four or five years.

"It's like a battleship or a carrier," he said. "You try to change the course, and you don't change abruptly."

Kent Holtgrewe, a member of Hitch's team responsible for the telecommunications network initiative, has known Hitch for about 25 years and worked with him at Accenture. Hitch's experience in the private sector has contributed to his successes at Justice, Holtgrewe said.

"I think any time you spend your career in a very competitive consultant industry, the key differentiator is implementation and business results," he said. "Van is very business-results oriented. He expects to be held to a report card that assesses the impact of what he and his teams are doing. It's an environment he really thrives in."

***

The Vance Hitch file

Title: Chief information officer, Justice Department.

Education: Bachelor's degree in physics from Muhlenberg College and master's in systems management from George Washington University.

Professional experience: Spent 27 years as a consultant with Accenture and joined Justice as an internal consultant.

Family: Lives in McLean, Va., with his wife, Fran, and cat, Skeeter. His 24-year-old son, Ben, also lives in the area.

Quote: "I definitely came with change in mind.... It's something I've always enjoyed. I was oriented toward bringing change to an organization and understanding how difficult that is."

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