Justice CIO assembles tech squad

Chief information officer Vance Hitch said he was a lone wolf when he joined the Justice

Department.

Without a strong information technology management structure, Justice's IT staff lacked direction and focused more on operations than architecture. Now, two years later, Hitch has reorganized his office, beefed up management skills and brought visibility to high-profile IT issues.

"The overall organization of Justice, which was very decentralized, didn't have a strong planning function, a strong architecture function, a strong IT function," he said.

Before he took the reins as CIO in March 2002, the position was not held by an IT professional and was treated much as a "collateral duty," he said. About 90 percent of the 350 IT employees were involved in operations such as running help desks.

But in just two years, Hitch has hired about 50 managers while keeping the staff head count steady, which made the changes an easier sell to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget.

"It's not the numbers I lack," he said. "It's the skills and the organizational structure. I have added a lot of people, but with the attrition that had already happened to some extent and new positions that came open, I created an organization and used those positions to fill them with the appropriate skills."

First Hitch had to win support within the department and then take the plan to OMB officials and Congress. By framing the changes in the scope of how the department was running, he was able to show how his plan would ease some of the problems. For example, Justice had received failing grades in all areas of the President's Management Agenda, a point that helped make the case.

He created five deputy CIO positions, each with an area of expertise, including a chief technology officer and chief information security officer, a first for the agency. The areas emerged naturally, he said. For example, security has been a sticking point at Justice for some time, and Hitch knew this was an area that needed attention.

"My organization pulled IT security up from the bowels of the organization and elevated it to a position reporting directly to me," he said.

Although the changes were generally welcomed, Hitch said the process took about nine months, and the full overhaul of the IT operation will take many years.

Determining the right number of deputy CIOs or the areas to focus on depends on the department, experts say. "I think if it's done well, [five deputies] is certainly manageable and in fact probably necessary," said Don McGillen, executive director of Carnegie Mellon University's CyLab. "The undertaking is just huge."

Although Justice's reorganization required a culture change in an agency that has historically resisted collaboration, changes in the IT shop came a little easier because technology managers are used to change, said Mike Duffy, Justice's deputy CIO for e-government.

"When reorganizations are first put on the board, there is always skepticism," Duffy said, "but over the last year, we would get pretty high approval ratings within the organization and also with our customers."

Besides making the technology work, the CIO must have a role in the decision-making process, said Costis Toregas, president of Public Technology Inc.

"In order to beef up and preserve the IT infrastructure, [CIOs are] hiring more management people to make sure they can deploy things like security, infrastructure and so on that are generic across the enterprise," Toregas said.

***

New IT organization at Justice Department

The Justice Department's chief information officer, Vance Hitch, has appointed five deputy CIOs to tackle the following areas:

E-government — including the department's Web site.

Policy and planning — information technology investment management and enterprise architecture development.

Enterprise solutions — including centrally run IT programs.

Operations — such as help desks and data centers.

Security — including certification and accreditation.

Source: Justice Department

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