Mintz: Turning conflict into consensus

A CIO exercises the fine art of politics to gain support for a key initiative

Transportation Department agencies were holdouts on the Bush administration’s governmentwide eRulemaking Initiative until Daniel Mintz, the department’s chief information officer, persuaded senior managers to get onboard.

Mintz overcame the agencies’ resistance by involving them in the decision-making process, keeping them informed and treating them with respect, said Thomas Barrett, DOT’s deputy secretary. “When key stakeholders are treated with respect and kept informed, they are much more likely to support the resulting decisions.”

In October, DOT began its transition to the shared Federal Docket Management System at Regulations.gov. Until then, the department had a docket site for each of its component agencies.

The eRulemaking effort provides a central Web site where the public can comment on proposed agency regulations without having to find the docket sites for each agency. By January, all major federal agencies were onboard.

Interagency initiatives such as eRulemaking demand a considerable time investment to sort out the governance issues, Mintz said.

Inevitably, many people have a stake in those initiatives, and they must be consulted. “Either through expediency or the need to get something done, people don’t always reach out to the right stakeholders or all the stakeholders to involve them in a meaningful way,” he said.

The relationships between information technology managers and program owners become complicated when initiatives involve many people, he added.

DOT became involved in eRulemaking before Mintz became CIO, but Mintz spent a significant amount of time meeting with senior leaders. He sat down regularly with agencies’ legal officers to discuss issues.

“The issues didn’t become any easier,” Mintz said. “But now we had a forum to discuss them and how to solve them.”

Mintz also made sure senior leaders were engaged directly in discussions with the Environmental Protection Agency, the lead agency for the eRulemaking Initiative.

Mintz is an unusual political CIO, said Ed Meagher, deputy CIO at the Interior Department. Mintz is not overly impressed with titles or positions, Meagher said. “He understands his role and [shows] respect for the career folks.”

As agencies transferred their rulemaking activities to a centralized docket system, it became clear that EPA was managing support activities and allowing staff members to focus on actual rulemaking.

“By taking the support structure, say around eRulemaking, and giving it to an organization that will specialize in that, we can take people who were focused on the details and now focus on the mission,” Mintz said.

Mintz will use lessons learned from the eRulemaking experience as a model for other IT activities such as Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, the federal government’s secure identity verification program. The IT organization will have a high profile in DOT.

“It is a compliment to Dan and his team that they have made the IT organization a much more important part of the overall Department of Transportation community — a strategic member, not just a provider of IT infrastructure,” Barrett said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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