Dean Hall likes to be backstage
- By Michael Arnone
- Aug 15, 2005
Dean Hall looks and acts more like a friendly accountant than the CIA's former top program management official. Many consider him to be a master teacher of that discipline.
A company man for 19 and a half years, Hall never thought he would end up at the FBI. Now, the self-described shadow warrior is a force in reorganizing, retraining and re-equipping the notoriously technophobic FBI to fulfill its expanded role in the war on terrorism.
Working with the FBI's chief information officer, Zalmai Azmi, Hall performs a valuable backstage role as the bureau's mismanagement and misuse of information technology has exploded into one of the agency's most embarrassing scandals. Congress has excoriated the bureau for wasting $170 million on the Virtual Case File (VCF) management system, part of the FBI's Trilogy program to modernize its obsolete computer systems.
Originally due to be completed in December 2003, VCF was shelved in March. In a February audit, Glenn Fine, the Justice Department's inspector general, blamed the program's meltdown on poor management and oversight, design modifications during the project, and bad IT investment practices.
Last June, Azmi and FBI Director Robert Mueller cited incompetent management as a major factor in VCF's costly failure.
To ensure that management snafus don't scuttle Sentinel, VCF's replacement, Zalmai hired Hall in August 2004 to create an Office of IT Program Management (ITPM) at the FBI.
Since the VCF controversy broke, Hall has been ordered to build a similar office exclusively for Sentinel.
ITPM is essential for training program managers and users in program management, Hall said. The FBI must train employees to manage projects from beginning to end, accounting for all FBI needs, he said. What works at the bureau's headquarters, for example, might not work in field offices.
ITPM has grown to 70 federal government employees and several hundred contractors, Hall said. The office has 110 people in training, including program managers and representatives from the operations and maintenance section of the CIO's office and advocates for users across the FBI.
Department officials are establishing a certification program for program managers and also hope to create a full career track for them, Hall said.
Even though improving program management is one of Mueller's top 10 priorities, Hall said he still has to sell the value of structured program management to everyone in the FBI.
He has already had some success. For example, he has created an agencywide system to track the FBI's IT spending and ensure that all purchases contribute to the bureau's mission.
Hall has also developed the FBI's first enterprise architecture plans and incorporated biometric smart cards into the bureau's physical security and cybersecurity procedures.
Hall's experience at the CIA makes him a good choice for meeting the FBI's needs, said Miodrag Lazarevich, former deputy director of the Special Communications Program Office in the CIA's Office of the CIO.
The FBI hired Lazarevich in June to be Sentinel's program manager.
Although Lazarevich has not worked directly under Hall until now, he has handled projects with Hall for the past 15 years. Hall's disciplined approach to program management and willingness to listen to multiple points of view before deciding on a course of action are his strengths, Lazarevich said.
Hall said his FBI peers have been accepting of people from other agencies, but his nearly 20 years at the CIA have made him publicity-shy. He agreed to Azmi's request to create ITPM only if Azmi would be the front man and let Hall work behind the scenes.
Hall also asked Azmi to keep quiet about the management change to give Hall a chance to address the FBI's many pressing issues in information management. Such aversion to the limelight comes naturally to those who have spent any time at the CIA.
"It's kind of in our DNA," Hall said.