Taxman with a tough job
- By Diane Frank
- Apr 12, 2004
Accepting responsibility for the Internal Revenue Service's information systems is not something one does lightly. But having a varied background in agency management may be the best preparation for taking on the myriad challenges the IRS faces.
W. Todd Grams became the agency's chief information officer in June 2003 after spending two and a half years as its chief financial officer, during which time he had plenty of opportunity to see the challenges the CIO faces every day from agency officials, congressional overseers and watchdog groups.
That's a lot of pressure, Grams said, even before taking into consideration the fact that citizens want their annual interaction with the tax agency to be quick and painless — two goals technology is supposed to help achieve. And as IRS officials struggle to modernize the agency's technology, they are facing complaints that the effort is taking too long and costing too much.
But when IRS Commissioner Mark Everson asked Grams to take the vacant CIO spot, he didn't hesitate to say yes, Grams said.
He's come a long way from his start as a budget analyst. His background includes more than 10 years and six positions at the Office of Management and Budget and another six years at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"I've made a career of being at different organizations and different positions," he said. "I have never planned my personal future professionally."
Grams believes in encouraging people to pursue new jobs within an agency, at another agency or even in the private sector. The important factor is that people want to do whatever job they are in, he said. But Grams himself hasn't gone looking for change.
"I make it a policy to do everything I can to make the agency that I'm working in successful, to make the environment for the employees in the organization better," he said. "And I figure as long as I come to work every day with that as my goal, to the extent I'm successful, the next great opportunity will come up at some point."
That type of movement within and among agencies is not something many employees are comfortable with, he admits.
"I happen to be someone who is relatively more comfortable with change than I think the average person is," Grams said.
Naming Grams as CIO was a brilliant move on Everson's part, said Larry Levitan, former chairman of the IRS Oversight Board.
"Although he does not have a career background in technology, he's very bright, he learns quickly, he has outstanding skills in working with a diverse group of people, and his business skills are outstanding," Levitan said of Grams. "He faces issues directly, he recognizes problems and puts them on the table and deals with them."
Gram's experience fits perfectly with the challenges he faces today. He said
his government experience have helped him understand that there is no one way or best way to do anything.
This is his first position in the information technology arena, but Grams doesn't consider himself at a disadvantage. When it comes to guiding an agency's technology, the key consideration must be that the person in charge understands that IT supports the business units, he said.
And his varied background is well suited to one of his most important tasks as CIO: getting people who have been working on the same mission for years to step back and think about why they are doing what they're doing and whether it is the best approach or simply tradition.
"You've got to make sure that employees are doing what they want to do, so when they wake up in the morning, they're jazzed," Grams said.
The Todd Grams file
Education: B.A. in economics from the University
Career highlights: Commerce Department, budget analyst; Office of Management and Budget, various jobs; Department of Veterans Affairs, deputy chief financial officer; Internal Revenue Service, chief financial officer.
Honors: He was the only government CFO to be recognized by CFO Publishing Corp. as one of the nation's top corporate financial officers.
Hobbies: A die-hard Washington Redskins football fan who has great hopes for the new Joe Gibbs era.