FCW Insider

The most influential federal IT leaders since 1987: A short list

Who have been the pivotal leaders of the federal IT community in the last 25 years?

As part of an upcoming special issue, Federal Computer Week, which hits the quarter-century mark this year, is looking at the people, policies and technologies that have had a formative influence on federal IT.

Formative is the key term. In flipping through issues from the early years of FCW, we have come across a lot of story lines that were big news at the time but did little to shape future policies or programs. How many stories did we write about Desktop IV protests? And the Clipper chip? But wait: One might argue that the Clipper chip was important to later debates about technology, privacy and law enforcement... You see the difficulty.

Assessing the legacy of individuals is even more challenging. While policies and technologies often remain influential for long periods of time, morphing in response to the changing environment, the accomplishments of IT leaders are often forgotten after they leave the scene and others step onto the stage.

Our goal is to identify the five, or perhaps ten, individuals whose fingerprints can still be discerned today, even if the current generation of leadership is unfamiliar with their names.

We’ve created a short list of people that seem to fit the bill. We’d like to hear what you think. How do you rate these individuals? Who doesn’t belong on the list? And who is missing? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

* Rep. Jack Brooks. The Brooks Act, the Competition in Contracting Act and the paperwork Reduction Act of 1980 were seminal pieces of legislation that still influence federal IT and acquisition policy, even though they have been superseded.

* Lynn McNulty. One of the early advocates for information security.

* Steve Kelman. During his tenure as head of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Kelman was a relentless advocate for innovation in acquisition, helping agencies learn new ways to leverage their buying power.

* Colleen Preston. First as counsel for the House Armed Services Committee and later as deputy under secretary of defense for acquisition reform, Preston took on the herculean task of revamping a defense acquisition process that was woefully ineffective and amazingly resistant to change. She made it happen.

* Paul A. Strassmann. During his time as director of defense information, Strassmann helped to create a new culture at the Pentagon, convincing DOD leaders up and down ranks to see information technology as a strategic management resource.

* Adm. Arthur Cebrowski. Cebrowski crystallized the concept of network-centric warfare, a concept that continues to shape the Pentagon’s IT strategy, even if it the term has fallen out of favor and the technology has gone beyond what Cebrowski could have imagined.

* Dendy Young. A dark horse, perhaps. But it might be argued that during his tenure at Falcon Microsystems and then GTSI during the mid-1990s, Young served as the crucial middleman between federal agencies, who were eager to take advantage of a new generation of commercial software and hardware, and IT vendors who were not ready to invest their own efforts in the federal market.

* John Koskinen. Koskinen was the Clinton administration’s point person on Y2K, which consumed a lot of the federal government’s time and money during a four-year stretch. The question is: Did it matter in the long run?

* Rep. Tom Davis. At a time when a lot of congressional leaders were resolutely clueless about technology, Davis recognized that IT was an essential component of government operations.

* Frank P. Pugliese Jr. Pugliese oversaw the rapid expansion of the GSA Schedule contracts, fueled in part by the addition of IT services, which gave agencies a new way to jumpstart projects. He also helped make the Federal Supply Service a sustainable operation.

* David Brailer. Brailer, the first national health IT coordinator, was the evangelist who through his personal vision and charisma spread awareness of health IT outside the clinical realm and into such fields as public health, health reform and population health studies.

Let us know what you think. If you'd rather not comment publicly on people, e-mail us at letters@fcw.com.

Posted by John Stein Monroe on Apr 10, 2012 at 12:18 PM36 comments

GSA's stop-the-presses moment

Well, that was a whirlwind of a Monday afternoon.

The news that Martha Johnson had resigned her post as General Services Administration administrator broke around 3:40 Monday afternoon. By that time of day, we're usually taking stock of our stories and beginning to plan out the lineup for the next day's e-mail newsletter.

But the GSA turmoil changed all that. In the days when the news media consisted of daily newspapers and broadcast, it would have been a "stop the presses!" moment. Nobody doubted that we needed to chase the story and try to nail down some information useful to our unique group of readers.

In a case of very bad timing, our GSA reporter Matthew Weigelt is on vacation this week. Instead, we put Camille Tuutti and Alice Lipowicz on the story, and I, your humble news editor, took part as well. Over the next two hours we talked to Bob Woods and Jonathan Aronie, found Johnson's resignation letter and studied the Inspector General report for details. We republished our story several times, adding detail and clarification with each iteration.

Finally, as afternoon was giving way to evening, we published the final version and called it done. Such moments can be exhilarating, and also exhausting. But these are the stories that matter most to our readers, and delivering accurate and timely information to people who want or need it is at the heart of what we do.

Posted by Michael Hardy on Apr 03, 2012 at 12:18 PM0 comments

Was I wrong about journalists?

Maybe I spoke too soon.

On the same day I wrote and published an entry assuring public affairs officers that most reporters are responsible professionals just trying to serve the public, media watchdog Jim Romanesko published this item: A reporter for the Daily Caller apparently threatened to make up a source’s response to a question if the source didn’t respond to inquiries.

The question pertained to whether Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, still has confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder in the wake of the Fast and Furious scandal. Reporter Matthew Boyle wanted a comment from Brad Woodhouse, communications director of the Committee. And when he didn’t get one, Romanesko reports, Boyle told him: “I’m giving you until 10 a.m. tomorrow to answer this question, then I’m reporting Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is not supporting Holder. “

When other reporters asked Boyle to explain what looks like a blackmail attempt, he told BuzzFeed that wasn't the case. “I wanted to give Brad plenty of time to respond before we reported, correctly, that the DNC would offer The Daily Caller no verbal support for Eric Holder," he said in BuzzFeed's report.

Well, maybe. But his e-mail to Woodhouse clearly says that what he planned to report was that Wasserman Schultz “is not supporting Holder,” which is different from “would offer The Daily Caller no verbal support…” One is a definitive statement of a position, the other expresses insufficient information. Not really the same thing.

So there was that, and then there were some reader comments on my earlier post telling me that I must not know how many reporters operate these days. One anonymous commenter advised me, “You need to survey the public affairs specialists on the crap journalists pull.”

OK. Challenge accepted. Public affairs officers, private-sector PR pros, and reporters too … comment here or e-mail me your stories at mhardy@fcw.com. Am I too idealistic about the high ethical standards of many in my field? Or are the senationalizers and ethically-challenged a rare exception?

If enough people have enough to say, I’ll highlight the best stories in a future entry and possibly in our print edition as well. 

Posted by Michael Hardy on Mar 15, 2012 at 12:18 PM4 comments