Feeling at home at the Pentagon
- By John Monroe
- Nov 17, 1996
Not many people can claim to have landed the ultimate job perfectly geared to their interests. Anita K. Jones director of Defense research and engineering can.
"If you are interested in science and technology policy - if you want to make a difference at that level in the U.S. - this is the best job in the country from my standpoint " Jones said.
She has made a smooth transition from the academic and research community to the Pentagon since arriving there in 1993. For Jones this was not a drastic career change but a sensible and exciting step up.A computer scientist with a focus on computer software and systems Jones oversees the Defense Department's $7.2 billion science and technology program. In addition to more traditional forms of information technology the program covers everything from creating a new malaria vaccine to developing better electronic sensors or more accurate atomic clocks.
Although this job is her first in government Jones did not come into the Pentagon cold from the field. Prior to her appointment by Secretary of Defense William Perry she had served on various government-sponsored advisory committees and worked with a number of Defense contractors. With that mix of experience she was familiar with key leaders in the Pentagon and "the way the building was wired " she said.
Whatever the apparent differences between her past assignments and her oversight of DOD's vast science and technology program Jones has found herself quite at home in her role at the Pentagon.She has discovered fundamental similarities between the government and academic worlds.
"As a researcher and educator and as an administrator in the government you are called upon to lead and to make decisions " Jones said. "In that way it's the same. It's a different venue but in both kind of jobs you are most successful if you are proactive - if you have a vision of what you want to accomplish. And in both cases working collaboratively with people is the best way to get the job done."
In fact a focus on leadership has figured largely in how Jones approaches her job.
As part of her oversight responsibilities Jones must "sign a piece of paper for Bill Perry each year and say the program we have planned is the best use of the DOD science and technology resources both dollars and people."
So when she joined the department three years ago she started several initiatives to foster what she calls "corporate planning" across DOD. She works with DOD agencies and components to develop specific program objectives - including a basic research plan and a technology plan - and then to measure success against those objectives.
"That whole process is partly for review but more important to exercise corporate leadership " Jones said.
With the same corporate planning approach the science and technology program more recently began working on projects that will use technology to save money while improving defense.
"This reflects a change of culture in the science and technology program " Jones said. "In the past we have been focused on using technology to enhance performance - to fly faster to be more stealthy to shoot [farther] to see with more accuracy.
"We are gradually building up a good solid set of programs [with] a major objective to reduce the cost of initially buying a system or operating and maintaining it " she said.
Despite her enthusiasm for her job Jones does miss her work at the University of Virginia where she served as chairwoman of the Department of Computer Science. She especially misses the students she said.But even on this point it is not that much of a stretch to draw comparisons between her past and present jobs. Jones finds herself giving talks across the country about twice a week and "that's a replacement for lecture time " she said.
Jones even talks about the members of the science and technology community much like a professor might talk about her students. She described her job as a "tremendous opportunity to lead and to make it possible for very dedicated knowledgeable people to enhance the capability of the armed forces.
"The job in this office is to enable those people to do more than they might otherwise be able to do " she said.
But for Jones the technology itself represents the real common denominator between academia and the DOD science and technology program. Her present position simply gives her more leverage to make a difference she said.
"IT is changing the face of the nation " Jones said. "I have a philosophy that you always want to be where the action is. And if you look at what technology forces are changing the U.S. information technology is one of the main ones " she said.