Gregory Giddens: Leading under scrutiny
Large government procurements typically have many groups tracking their progress, but not many undergo the close scrutiny that SBInet is subject to as the centerpiece of the Homeland Security Department’s Secure Border Initiative (SBI).
From the moment DHS announced SBInet early last year to the award of a $2.5 billion contract to Boeing in September 2006 — during an intense midterm election year debate on illegal immigration — SBInet was the subject of regular investigations by various congressional committees, the Government Accountability Office and DHS’ Office of the Inspector General.
Gregory Giddens, who was asked to lead the SBI program in 2005, had only six months to shepherd the SBInet procurement to its award. Giddens was named executive director of the SBI program management office in October 2006.
Giddens spent much of his government career in various Defense Department jobs before landing at the U.S. Coast Guard in 2001. He eventually became deputy program executive director for the Coast Guard’s Integrated Deepwater System before his stint with SBI.
The great sense of urgency expressed by DHS leaders and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency added another challenge to the SBInet procurement, Giddens said.
That urgency meant handling a compressed schedule while ensuring the necessary structure and means to implement the performance-based contract — an innovation for DHS — were in place. Giddens used electronic decision-making tools to help move things along.
“The organization had typically not done source selection in that manner,” Giddens said. “It meant making sure everybody understood the mission and the time we had in which to make it happen so we could move ahead.”
However, many people are reluctant to try something new, Giddens said. Even with time at a premium, he took time to organize and manage discussions with contractors and others so people could become comfortable with the performance-based procurement.
Two of Giddens’ strengths are seeing barriers before they pose a problem and managing details to avoid obstacles to progress, said Mark Rushing, portfolio leader for the Justice Department and DHS at Capgemini Government Solutions. At the same time, Giddens has the broad vision needed as the leader of the SBInet program. “One of the early things he championed was having a capability to electronically model the border,” Rushing said.
Giddens said people must understand that the country’s borders are composed of many environments, each with its own local idiosyncrasies.
“We’ll make a lot of progress in the next two or three years,” Giddens said. “Not everything will be done by then, but people will see that we’ve made progress and that the [SBI program] group made it happen.”
Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.