2013 Eagle Winner

Richard Spires: The long-term change agent

Richard Spires

While most agency CIOs last only a couple of years, Richard Spires has been a rare exception. After serving as associate CIO and then CIO at the Internal Revenue Service for much of the second George W. Bush administration, Spires was tapped in 2009 to lead the $6.4 billion IT portfolio at the Department of Homeland Security. He now spearheads the development, implementation and maintenance of the department’s IT architecture.

Drawing on decades of private-sector experience managing complex IT systems, Spires has sought to integrate the department’s IT in line with Secretary Janet Napolitano’s vision of One DHS, and he has supported DHS’ component agencies and their specific priorities while continuing to encourage them to think enterprise rather than parochial.

That unified approach is a tall order DHS still struggles with, 12 years after its formation from 22 agencies. However, Spires said he tries not to get discouraged by the roadblocks but instead think of how to find the best across-government solutions. It is the same sentiment he evokes as vice chairman of the CIO Council.

"There are more than 50 ongoing initiatives across the council, and we’re really focusing on figuring out what is the one critical view rather than the many to get things done well," Spires said.

One focus area for the council’s executive committee has been encouraging the use of best practices across the government. Last year saw intensified efforts to expand the annual federal CIO Boot Camp, which caters to senior IT leaders -- incumbent and incoming.

"Traditionally, the boot camp gets 40 to 50 people, but last year we had more than 150 people," Spires said. "We did a lot more outreach, and we worked to get people to show up. It was well received."

The council is also in the midst of launching CIOpedia, a wiki on how to operate as an agency CIO. The crowdsourced project will help government CIOs navigate the myriad rules and regulations and draw from governmentwide best practices. "This is something that hasn’t existed before, and to me, that’s good stuff," Spires said.

He credits his success to having a genuine desire to improve the federal sphere. "I have a real passion for wanting the government to operate more effectively -- and that’s not a political statement," he said. "It’s really about good government and not wasting taxpayer money and doing the best we can with the resources we have. IT can be such a transformational part of that, if done correctly."

Spires acknowledged that the road ahead has plenty of speed bumps. But when things work out, it is all worth it. "There are a lot of frustrations in a job like this, but what’s pretty amazing is how sometimes you get the right alignment of the right people, and the organization is moving in one direction," he said. "When that happens, you can move mountains."

Like any good leader, Spires attributes DHS’ successes to the team effort rather than to any individual work he has performed.

"I like to think I’m a catalyst," he said. "There are many people who come together to drive the kind of change we are trying to achieve at DHS and across government. I’m proud to be part of that community."

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

The Fed 100

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


  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

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