Cooper out of the frying pan

Steve Cooper, the Homeland Security Department's first chief information officer, submitted his resignation April 4, leaving one of the largest, most complex and most pressured federal agencies without a top information technology leader.

His decision comes as the department faces increased scrutiny to rein in costs and improve efficiency while effectively protecting the nation. It also opens up a new competition among some of the most talented and powerful CIOs in Washington, D.C., to replace him.

Cooper said he had recommended that the acting CIO come from inside DHS' IT leadership.

"It's regrettable because he has really put his life and blood into this," said Tom Ragland, who worked under Cooper as director of operations for the Bush administration's Office of Homeland Security in 2002.

Cooper had the analytical skills to build a new, seamless, enterprisewide infrastructure out of the 22 agencies that came together in DHS, Ragland said. Cooper also had the charisma to persuade and reassure 22 CIOs that he would respect their individual missions while crafting an overall vision for the department, he said.

Cooper worked to improve information sharing among federal, state and local government agencies. He created the Homeland Security Information Network and the Homeland Security Data Network and set up an IT security program in which DHS officials certified and accredited 68 percent of their systems in 2004.

However, despite Cooper's efforts, the department's IT systems often received negative reviews from DHS' inspector general. In 2004, DHS got an F for poor compliance with Federal Information Security Management Act requirements. Less than 34 percent of the department's major applications were accredited and certified as secure in 2003.

The IG said a year ago that DHS officials had made progress toward solving their management challenges, but they would need five to seven years to implement improvements to grants and financial management, border protection, intelligence efforts and technology upgrades.

Cooper said he thinks he did well at everything he was asked to do. But he emphasized that the work of building DHS' IT infrastructure was a team effort. "I provided the vision, but the 6,000 [DHS] IT professionals made it real," he said.

When asked what accomplishment he is proudest of as CIO, Cooper had one answer — surviving.

Cooper accomplished a great deal without the authority or staff he needed, said James Carafano, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "If someone went out to get a cup of coffee, no one was there to answer the phones," he said.

In a December 2004 report, Carafano suggested giving the DHS CIO position more authority. The CIO job at DHS is one of the hardest of its kind, he said, adding that the unrelenting pressure, long hours and diversity of stakeholders within and outside the department make the position incredibly challenging.

Judi Hasson and Rutrell Yasin contributed to this story.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.


  • Social network, census

    5 predictions for federal IT in 2017

    As the Trump team takes control, here's what the tech community can expect.

  • Rep. Gerald Connolly

    Connolly warns on workforce changes

    The ranking member of the House Oversight Committee's Government Operations panel warns that Congress will look to legislate changes to the federal workforce.

  • President Donald J. Trump delivers his inaugural address

    How will Trump lead on tech?

    The businessman turned reality star turned U.S. president clearly has mastered Twitter, but what will his administration mean for broader technology issues?

  • moving ahead

    The bid to establish a single login for accessing government services is moving again on the last full day of the Obama presidency.

  • Shutterstock image (by Jirsak): customer care, relationship management, and leadership concept.

    Obama wraps up security clearance reforms

    In a last-minute executive order, President Obama institutes structural reforms to the security clearance process designed to create a more unified system across government agencies.

  • Shutterstock image: breached lock.

    What cyber can learn from counterterrorism

    The U.S. has to look at its experience in developing post-9/11 counterterrorism policies to inform efforts to formalize cybersecurity policies, says a senior official.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group