DOT's IRM chief comes full circle

Diane Litman has lived in the Washington D.C. area for about 17 years since she graduated from college and joined the Transportation Department where she serves as manager of the Information Resources Management Division. But growing up she lived in such places as Bangladesh Bangkok and Pakistan and those experiences continue to shape her life including how she approaches her job.

Working in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation part of Litman's task is to figure out how to connect information systems and data architectures from the different operating administrations across the department such as the Coast Guard the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration. She also must work across the different functional departmental cultures such as budget information technology acquisition and strategic planning.

"I went to an international school where there were diplomats' children from Sweden children of military generals from the Vietnam War and business people's children " said Litman whose father covered Asia as vice president with the consulting firm Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc. "Once you got into that school it didn't matter what your background was. It just mattered who you were. The students worked very well together."

She forged many friendships with people of various nationalities and religions. "I think I can see where different people are coming from and [see] they can still work together in an effective way " she said. "I like to see that not only in [personal] relationships but organizational relationships and process relationships. You can integrate things together in a way that makes it work for all the different components."

Litman was not the only one of her class to feel the lasting impact of those years overseas. Classmate and critically acclaimed novelist Richard Powers incorporated some people and places Litman recognizes into his novel Operation Wandering Soul which was nominated for a National Book Award.

Litman's long tenure at DOT recalls her childhood experiences in another way. Her father's specialty with Booz-Allen was in fact transportation. He built roads in Vietnam after the years of conflict there and he helped design transportation systems for Taiwan. "It's interesting to see the traces of your life come back " she said. "It's like a circle."

Litman got her start with DOT in 1978 when she worked for the Coast Guard as a co-op student in the office of strategic planning. That office was responsible for looking at challenges and solutions 15 years into the future and beyond a timespan she has managed to outlast.

A finance major at the University of West Florida she began working full time in acquisitions for the Coast Guard after graduating in 1980. She started off doing cost-pricing and evaluating bid proposals later getting a job as a contract officer in the newly formed Automated Data Processing Branch. In those days ADP "was really a new field it was its own kind of discipline " Litman said. "I learned the Brooks Act very well. I actually learned that as a contracting officer."

After spending more than 10 years with the Coast Guard she took a job at DOT in the Acquisition Division and then spent several years at the Federal Aviation Administration where she ended up as head of acquisition policy.Her career took a new turn in 1994 when she went to Industrial College of the Armed Forces at the National War College where she earned a master's degree in National Resources Strategy with a focus on the information technology industry.

As part of the 10-month program she spoke with top executives from such firms as BDM International Inc. Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. about where the technology industry was going.

Litman returned to DOT taking a job in the Office of the Secretary where her first major task was putting together an IT procurement that would give the office fast access to technology and services.

As agencies across the department joined on the program evolved into the Information Technology Omnibus Procurement (ITOP) a billion-dollar program launched in early 1995 that involved more than 20 prime contractors providing services across a number of disciplines. The program has awarded more than 200 task orders worth more than $300 million.

During her years at the Office of the Secretary Litman met and married another acquisition executive - David Litman now director of acquisition and grant management for the agency. They do not work together directly but do find themselves involved in the same issues - sometimes on different sides.

However they make an effort to keep a clear division between their professional and personal interactions. "You have to be very careful that you don't let it be incestuous that you don't let the other influence your decision-making " she said. "Luckily we are strong-willed enough on our own that we'll listen to the other but in the end we are going to make our own decisions."

Litman now part of DOT's policy branch no longer works directly with the ITOP program. Now she focuses more on how the department's different components deploy the technology it buys.

"I wish I had more of the technical expertise " she said. "But I think that is more important in an operational kind of job. In this job it's just more important that you can figure out what the linkages are between different offices and processes while trying to figure out how to put them all together."

In that task her comfort with working with different cultures no doubt will be an asset. She compared it to needlework a hobby she took up early in her career to help pass the time on long trips to Coast Guard field offices.

"If you don't do needlework you would just look at a finished product and admire it - or not admire it as the case may be " she said. "But if you are somebody who does it you would look at the different fabric that was used the different fiber that was used and you can [see] the processes and see how interesting it was."

Litman said the complexities of an acquisition should likewise be clear to contracting officials. But to the casual observer it should be transparent.

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