21st-century National Information Infrastructure gets new Toole

John Toole describes his new career directing the development of a prototype for the nation's 21st-century National Information Infrastructure (NII) as a move to a higher plateau.

Toole director for the past two years of the National Coordination Office for Computing Information and Communications next month will join the senior management team at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The center was a partner of one of two groups tapped to receive up to $170 million from the National Science Foundation to develop the prototype for the next-generation NII.

The NCSA alliance plans to create a distributed computing environment to serve as a prototype for an infrastructure for advanced computational research. It aims to integrate many computational visualization and information resources into a national-scale grid.

As one of the two deputy directors of NCSA Toole will oversee the technical operations and coordination of the alliance teams throughout the country."The goal here is to try to save a lot of time energy and money in the long term and enable people to achieve things they've never dreamed of " Toole said in a recent interview at his office in Arlington Va. "We have an opportunity to really get peoples' heads together and really move aggressively forward as a nation."

In his new post Toole - who was not involved with the selection of the alliances - likely will draw from his experience coordinating more than $1 billion worth of federal interagency research and development programs in computing and communications including his work with senior officials in 12 federal agencies developing strategic approaches to long-term information technology research and development.

The work has not always been easy. With shrinking budgets and congressional mandates to do more with less personnel changes also added to the setbacks that have plagued many agencies during the past few years.

Toole said his belief in empowering people while injecting constructive energy has been core to his leadership philosophy in his current post. "What I've tried to do is focus on that - recognizing that the agencies have different missions different internal processes " he said. "The philosophy here has been to try to keep the agencies empowered but productive by minimizing meetings and creating a reasonable streamlined process. We've got to keep moving on."

The coordination office has evolved to make fundamental investments in computer science that can be exploited for future commercial gains Toole said. For example the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) development of a mock operating system became the prototype for Microsoft Corp.'s NT server operating system he said.

"All the things that people come up with as solutions turn out to be [based on technologies] the government and certain industries have invested in " he said.When he leaves the coordination office this summer it will be after a lifetime career in the federal government. Toole served in the Air Force for more than 22 years retiring from the service in 1994. After leaving the military he served as acting director of the Defense Department's Computing Systems Technology Office and then as executive director for high-performance computing for DARPA.

Although he anticipates being able to return to the hands-on technology arena Toole said he will miss working for the federal government. "There isn't a much better place where you can have technological impact political impact and policy impact simultaneously in an area that is the heart and soul of this Information Age. I'll miss the people I know and the ability to work with that group of folks. On the other hand I hope they'll view me as a person on the outside who is really making their dreams come true."

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