Rising Star: Vernon Lee: One step ahead on HSPD-12

Microsoft’s senior architect gave the president’s office a head start on meeting a tight deadline.

Vernon Lee, a senior architect at Microsoft, has a set of principles that guides his work. The first is finding innovative ways to solve customers’ most vexing problems. In that spirit, Lee adapted a shared-services provider’s application for implementing Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 to ensure that the Executive Office of the President (EOP) could meet the initiative’s requirements on time. In May 2006, Lee’s team at Microsoft was trying to help its client meet an October deadline for issuing the first personal identity verification (PIV) cards. However, the General Services Administration had not yet published its approved list of products for HSPD-12. Lee wanted to do as much work as possible before GSA released its list so his team would be ready to implement its solution quickly, he said.“We looked at it from the standpoint of how can we…select two or three possible products that could eventually be approved for use by GSA for HSPD-12 and [verify] that each product met all requirements” in Federal Information Processing Standard 20, Lee said.He identified a product that was likely to be approved and could be implemented quickly and easily, Lee said. The product ensured that the EOP application aligned with GSA’s certification requirements. It synchronized the system for issuing credentials for the PIV cards, managing the authentication of users when they accessed computer systems, and handling digital signatures and encryption of e-mail messages.Lee started with the goal of ensuring that EOP officials got the most out of the investment they had already made in their technology infrastructure, said Alison Cunard, practice manager at Microsoft. When he encountered setbacks and challenges, Lee was open with agency contract representatives and vendors about the issues and proposed two or three choices. Technical challenges were easier to overcome than policy issues, Lee said. Many aspects of the HSPD-12 guidance are open to interpretation, he added, but he did not feel qualified to make those decisions. Therefore, he sought the EOP general counsel’s involvement in some decisions, a process that took several months. “Whenever we came into a gray area, we took it to the general counsel and said, ‘Can you interpret this for us and guide us for how we should approach this?’ ” Lee said. He worked tirelessly and was always available for weekend calls or visits, Cunard said.“Sometimes it seemed like there might be easier solutions than what he set forward, but Lee remained focused on the goal and persevered,” she said. “That sets him apart.”
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