New NASA CIO views technology as an enabler

Linda Cureton supports social media as a tool to help employees

For Linda Cureton, the new chief information officer for NASA, the role of technology at federal agencies is simple: It is an enabler for business missions.

Cureton’s support for using social-media tools in government follows that basic principle, said Emma Antunes, Web manager at Goddard Space Flight Center, where Cureton was CIO before her new appointment. Antunes also is project manager for Spacebook, a Facebook-like tool designed for internal collaboration.

“Social media may seem to be the latest toy, but I find she is more focused on questions like: How do we use this to be successful?” Antunes said.

Cureton’s support for social-media tools was critical in getting the necessary approvals to develop and launch Spacebook, Antunes said. Cureton also set an ambitious pace for the project, Antunes said.

“She said, ‘Don’t tell me it is going to take three years, what can you give me now?’” Antunes said. “She said to develop it and then deliver updates and improvements in the future.”

In addition to supporting the use of social media at NASA, she is a prolific blogger and avid user of Facebook and Twitter to enhance the agency's public profile, observers say.

Cureton’s extensive tenure in government will serve her well in her new position, said John Slye, principal analyst at market research firm Input.

“She already knows the organization and already has instant credibility in the organization,” Slye said.

Before working at Goddard, Cureton held technology positions at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Energy Department, according to her bio.

Other experts agree Cureton has emerged as an important leader for the adoption of social media in government.

"She's been an innovator," said Andrew Krzmarzick, who is a senior project coordinator at the Graduate School, a continuing education institution originally part of the Agriculture Department, and chief blogger at Generation Shift, a blog geared toward improving the government's use of Web 2.0 and social-media technologies.

NASA has been without a permanent CIO for about a year. Bobby German was named acting NASA CIO in January. Jonathan Pettus gave up the NASA CIO position last year to return to his previous post as CIO for the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

One of Cureton’s first tasks will likely be to oversee the open competition for a series of information technology services contracts at NASA estimated to be worth more than $4 billion.

NASA’s agencywide Information Technology Infrastructure Integration Program acquisition includes five projects to consolidate the agency's IT and data services, according to NASA.

Cureton has a good mix of skills needed for the leadership role at NASA, said Dan Mintz, former chief technology officer of the Transportation Department and now CTO of Computer Sciences Corp.'s civil and health services.

It is often difficult to find someone to fill such a broad role, he said, but Cureton already understands the NASA culture.

Most importantly, perhaps, is that she knows how to get her ideas across clearly and tactfully, Mintz said. That is an especially useful skill to have when conveying ideas that might be disruptive in nature and cause employees to become defensive.

"NASA made a good choice," Mintz said.

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