FBI hires tech-savvy HR guru

Former oil company exec could put human resources on right track

An executive with strong change management skills and information technology experience is just what the FBI needs to improve the bureau's human resources programs, experts say.

Last week, FBI officials said they found their man. They hired Donald Packham, a consultant and former senior vice president for human resources at BP, formerly British Petroleum, as the bureau's first chief human resources officer (CHRO).

The FBI's success in meeting its hiring, training, promotion and retention goals depends greatly on improving its administrative IT systems for human resources programs, said Rick Cinquegrana, project director of the FBI Transformation Project at the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA).

In September, NAPA issued a report recommending that the FBI create a CHRO position and improve its IT capabilities for hiring and training. The FBI's existing IT capabilities are inadequate and limit the bureau's ability to take full advantage of tools to improve its human resources productivity, Cinquegrana said. IT "basically underlies a lot of what they need to get done, the reforms they want to make," he said.

An advocate of technology, Packham said all human resources operations are IT-based because everything about employment and employee records starts with the payroll database.

Packham has seen the growth of IT in human resources from witnessing the introduction of desktop computers at BP to overseeing the implementation of enterprisewide solutions, he said.

"Technology is the backbone of future HR programs," Packham said. "You can't effectively manage information flow, keep records or share information without technology.… You have to embrace using technology as a way to more efficiently get HR done and make it more user-friendly."

Experts applaud the FBI for hiring Packham. Judith Douglas, vice president of leadership and performance at the nonprofit Council for Excellence in Government, said Packham comes to the position with impressive credentials and will be at the heart of transforming the FBI.

He especially must ensure that the FBI has well-honed leadership positions at all levels, Douglas said. Packham must also create the training pipeline needed to develop employees in all career paths, especially the new intelligence path the bureau has just created, she said.

However, establishing such a training program could be a challenge, Cinquegrana said. Packham doesn't have jurisdiction over all aspects of FBI training and that will be a challenge for him, Cinquegrana said.

Responsibility for training is split among the Administrative Services Division, where Packham works; the Training Division; and the Directorate of Intelligence. Packham will need to have additional authority transferred to him or work closely with other senior officials in charge of training, Cinquegrana said.

Still, hiring a CHRO "shows that the FBI is serious about having a capable and talented workforce," said J. Robert Carr, chief professional development officer at the Society for Human Resource Management, which has 200,000 members worldwide.

The FBI needs someone well-versed in implementing change-management principles at organizations adapting to new missions, Carr said.

Packham has experience in dealing with thousands of employees and has access to the best experts, advice and resources available, Cinquegrana added.

New hire, new challenges

Donald Packham, the FBI's first chief human resources officer, will face two particularly difficult challenges in helping the bureau update its human resources information technology. The first is helping with Sentinel, the FBI's controversial flagship data-management system. Sentinel replaces the abandoned $170 million Virtual Case File management system. VCF, scuttled after ongoing cost and schedule overruns, was part of the FBI's Trilogy program to modernize the bureau's obsolete computer systems.

In addition to working on a controversial program, Packham must contend with limited IT resources, said Rick Cinquegrana, project director of the FBI Transformation Project at the National Academy of Public Administration. Zalmai Azmi, the FBI's chief information officer, told NAPA that operations IT, not administrative and support IT, is the bureau's top priority, Cinquegrana said.

-- Michael Arnone

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