Spinning a Web of information

It probably helps that Rich Kellett spends his free time whipping around pommel horses, sprinting across mats, launching into handsprings and folding his spinning torso around parallel bars. As the head of the General Services Administration's Emerging Information Technologies Policies Division, Ke

It probably helps that Rich Kellett spends his free time whipping around pommel horses, sprinting across mats, launching into handsprings and folding his spinning torso around parallel bars.

As the head of the General Services Administration's Emerging Information Technologies Policies Division, Kellett - an amateur gymnast - needs to be flexible.

It is his job to stay on top of technological developments in the frenetic Internet economy and to wrestle with policy issues that the federal government faces as it increasingly interacts with the public through the World Wide Web. He leads a loose confederation of federal Webmasters that meets regularly to discuss IT, and he teaches Internet classes to government employees every month through the Federal Web Management Institute. In addition, he has become the de facto point man for all things Internet in the federal government, which means he must constantly communicate with other federal workers about Internet issues.

Kellett, 44, is a busy man. Satisfying just one part of his job - the part where he needs to communicate with fellow employees about the Internet - requires that he spend one to three hours every morning answering e-mail. He gets about 50 messages a day.

He will be on vacation in Australia from mid-August to mid-September, and he said more than 1,000 e-mail messages will be waiting for him when he returns. "I'm just going to throw them all away and start over," he said.

Kellett, who has a law degree and an MBA, grew up in Lexington, Mass., graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and has spent much of his career working as a government engineer. He speaks rapidly and often contemplates - aloud - the myriad policy implications thrust upon the government because of the Internet. He has a sly laugh and is quick to unleash it, despite the cascade of sobering technical information that washes over him just about every waking minute.

Just three years ago, Kellett had never even been online. He had spent much of his life collecting job titles and doing technical work for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Army Information Systems Command and the Naval Sea Systems Command.

A series of technical and policy jobs with GSA, including director of the Center for Strategic Information Technology, pointed Kellett toward the Web and his current job.

At the time, the Internet was just starting to heat up, and Kellett and his bosses realized that the Internet would play a major role in the future of the federal government. He recalled the day he and a group of people in his office attempted to locate "a government group that does Web stuff," he said. "There wasn't one. So I said, 'Why don't we start one?' " Thus the Federal WebMasters Forum was born. Kellett organized the group and still leads it.

With his expertise in law, technology and business, Kellett has earned the respect of a wide range of government employees, said Mike Bowman, information technologies manager with the Navy.

"He has provided an enormous wealth of information to share with his colleagues," he said. "As a result, he has had a tremendous impact on improving federal Web enterprises wherever they are in federal agencies. There are some people who are true leaders, and he is one of them."

Understanding business is the next big hurdle for federal Web organizations, Kellett said. He noted that few Webmasters know how to draw up business plans or how to sell big ideas for Web projects to their superiors. Recently, he said, Webmasters have started going through a new phase, one which can be summarized by the oft-repeated statement, "I need money."

"A lot of people who have spent a lot of time in technical areas are wrestling with capital planning," Kellett said.

The difficulty of hiring and keeping IT professionals is the biggest challenge for federal IT organizations today, he said. Another challenge, he said, is for the government to nurture a better system for teaching and rewarding leadership.

Kellett said his training at West Point hammered into him the idea that true leadership is rare and precious. But a fertile atmosphere, he said, can help teach more people how to be good leaders.

He defined a true leader as someone "willing to do everything first, no matter how hard it is." It also includes an element of being concerned for everybody's welfare, not just your own. "How do you motivate people to get out of the foxhole?" he asked. "Well, you go first."

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