Joseph Hagin: Leading by setting expectations

Joe Hagin is not a technical guy. He isn’t even a typical project manager. But when he took on the job of upgrading the communications the president uses when he is away from the White House — including those on Air Force One and at Camp David — Hagin quickly acquired those skills.

As an assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff, Hagin found a paltry White House communications system when George W. Bush was elected president in 2000. The system’s problems were magnified by events during and after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

“September 11 highlighted a lot of issues with communications capabilities that existed, and it was apparent we needed to throw away the playbook and start from scratch,” Hagin said. “We looked at the entire spectrum of the president’s communications — secure, nonsecure, voice, data and video. I encouraged people to think big.”

Hagin put together a team, including experts from the Defense Information Systems Agency, the White House Communications Agency and other departments, to develop what Hagin described as a foolproof system.

DISA started with an initial assessment of all current communications capabilities. Hagin’s implementation team developed a plan based on that analysis.

“We have to have redundancy and quite a bit of it,” he said. “The biggest challenge was defining the line between what was cutting edge but what was also reliable. We had to construct a system to have continuous improvements without having to start from scratch each time.”

Hagin’s leadership and support from the highest levels in the White House were instrumental in the successful $327 million, five-year effort to upgrade presidential voice, data and video communications systems.

“Joe Hagin provided operator input to establish a modernization program and then backed the program by seeking funds to implement it,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Croom, DISA’s director. “He then doggedly tracked the status of the modernization program until fulfillment. Major parts were accomplished this past year, and as with any major modernization program, increments will follow.”

Croom credits the project’s success to Hagin’s Joseph Hagin: Leading by setting expectations personal engagement in the program, despite his busy role as a key adviser to President Bush.

“He is very soft-spoken individual,” said Col. Jim Lien, White House Communications Agency commander. “But when he speaks, everyone understands his expectations, and he gets out of the way. He establishes left and right boundaries and lets you do your business.”

Hagin first knew the implementation team had succeeded when an East Coast blackout occurred in 2003. Air Force One held a flawless high-definition video teleconference that kept Bush informed of events on the ground.

“It went from a scratchy phone line to high-definition video system,” Hagin said. “That was the first time we used it extensively. We were at events and on secure phones, and using the video from the plane or hotel room, and it all worked flawlessly, and we turned to each other and said, ‘We’ve come a long way.’”

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