Hobbs takes track record to Treasury

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For Ira Hobbs, the new chief information officer at the Treasury Department, the secret to success is not how much you know about technology but how much you know about people.

This maxim matches Hobbs' handiwork. As co-chairman of the CIO Council's Workforce and Human Capital for Information Technology Committee, he has worked to create governmentwide programs to recruit and retain the best and brightest employees.

Committee work has been a passion for Hobbs. "I believe in people," he said. "It would be hard for me to say, 'I'm too busy to do that.' That's an important part of our community, an important part of what we do."

A career federal employee who spent 23 years at the Agriculture Department running IT programs, Hobbs knows a lot about systems and even more about motivating people. These skills should serve him well as Treasury's CIO, a job he began in June. Hobbs' agenda includes building a strong workforce, partially by re-evaluating the role of the CIO office, and training and certifying project managers, he said.

As part of a plan to revamp Treasury's core staff, Hobbs plans to hire new associate CIOs in telecommunications management and e-government/enterprisewide management.

"I'm trying to help add value in terms of IT and how it supports the many and diverse programs" at Treasury, Hobbs said. "We're modernizing the CIO's office [by] rethinking how we do things and getting input as to how we can do that."

Like other CIOs, Hobbs said, he will focus on capital planning and investment and enterprise architecture, each of which helps the department use IT effectively.

Hobbs said other people-oriented plans are equally important. He intends to build relationships and learn to work with officials at Treasury's many decentralized organizations, which is a process an effective departmental CIO Council should help with, Hobbs said.

Treasury's IT environment includes a $2.6 billion budget and many high-profile programs such as the Internal Revenue Service modernization program, which has been the subject of mounting criticism because of its cost and delays.

Hobbs has a knack for leading and motivating people, according to those who have worked with him.

"Ira is extra talented," said Anne Reed, president of Acquisition Solutions Inc. and former CIO at the USDA. Reed said Hobbs is the most gifted manager with whom she has worked.

He knows how to pull the bits and pieces of a program together, she said, and he knows how to get the best out of people.

"In the time since he and I worked together, I've seen him evolve," Reed said. "He always was a gifted manager; now I think he is also a true leader." He has "demonstrated his leadership capacity in really remarkable ways."

Hobbs said the decision to leave the USDA was not easy — he spent the past seven years as deputy CIO. "But one of the things I'm in this business for is to be a CIO," Hobbs said.

Fortunately for Hobbs, Treasury officials changed the CIO position into a career job following the departure of Drew Ladner, who was a political appointee. "There are very few opportunities where there are career CIO vacancies," Hobbs said. "So one of the things that attracted me is that it was a career opportunity, and [it was] one that I thought I was ready for."

Other advantages of the position included the deputy secretary's management-oriented attitude and the opportunity for Hobbs to build his own IT organization, he said. "It seemed like the [right] time and the [right] opportunity," he said.

This isn't Hobbs' first stint as a CIO. He served as acting CIO at the USDA for a year and a half, filling in when the post was left vacant by departing CIOs.

That experience should help. Hobbs said he has a good understanding of how government works and an "appreciation for what it takes to be successful in this environment."

"A large part of what we do is challenge assumptions," he said. "I think I bring a proven track record of leadership in terms of leading and motivating people. Regardless of how much technology you know, ...one of the most effective things leaders need to do is motivate people."

Hobbs will be responsible for finding funding and staff for the department. That is one of his strengths. It is a skill set that "I bring that will bring value," he said.

Like other new CIOs, Hobbs has inherited programs designed and supported by his predecessors.

The best approach, he said, is to try to understand the big picture and not presume that programs are flawed. If revisions are needed, he said, it's important to communicate as much as possible with people involved in the process.

"Even in the midst of change, you don't have to be disagreeable with people," he said. "You can help them set a course. You have to get out and engage with people. You have to set a clear direction."

Hobbs likes the analogy of driving a car when it comes to managing change. As the driver, you have to pay attention to objects in the rear-view mirror and make sure they don't creep up on you while you are watching what's on the road ahead.

O'Hara is an Arlington, Va., freelancer.

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The Ira Hobbs file

Title: Chief information officer at the Treasury Department.

Education: Bachelor's degree in political science from Florida A&M

University and a master's in public administration from Florida State

University.

Family: Married, one son.

Experience: Most recently deputy CIO at the Agriculture Department, but also served as acting CIO there. Other information technology experience includes director of the USDA's Office of Operations, which included responsibility for the department's procurement program.

He has worked for three politically

appointed CIOs. He also spent five years as director of the Information Systems and Communications Division of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Military service: Served in the Army during the Vietnam War.

Quote: "Even in the midst of change, you don't have to be disagreeable with people. You can help them set a course."

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