Thie tackles parks' preservation
- By L. Scott Tillett, L. Scott Tillett
- Aug 17, 1997
As a lover of dogs a fan of auto racing and a custodian of America's icons Don Thie knows all about competition.
He's seen it at the Indianapolis 500. He's seen it in dog shows. And he's seen it in the budget process in which he tries to wrangle as much money as possible for information technology and telecommunications at the National Park Service.
As the information resources management and telecommunications coordinator for the National Park Service Thie presides over one of the lowest-funded IRM operations in the federal government. According to Thie the National Park Service - with about 23 500 employees and its proposed IRM spending next year near $50 million - is the lowest-funded bureau in terms of IRM dollars per capita within the Interior Department which is itself poorly funded. He said the department with about 70 000 employees has about only $7 billion to spend a year making it the lowest-funded Cabinet-level agency on a per-capita basis. He said close to half a billion dollars of Interiors' budget is spent on IRM.
The funding problem is one that goes back years. The National Park Service founded in 1916 has never been viewed as an organization that needed to process a lot of information in contrast to agencies such as the Social Security Administration or the Internal Revenue Service. Rather Interior manages land and natural resources. Consequently physically protecting a resource such as a buffalo becomes a priority over using IT to manage data collected on buffaloes.
Part of what drew Thie to the National Park Service in the late 1980s was the variety of IRM work in which the agency is involved. "No matter what [technology] you're interested in we've got some activity going on in it somewhere in the Park Service " Thie said noting that the agency's IRM projects run the gamut from initiatives related to the Internet to the installations of geographic information systems.
Another factor drawing Thie to the job: the opportunity to connect with the core of Americana.
"Essentially we have in the National Park Service America's icons " he said. In performing his job and providing National Park Service workers with IT tools Thie said he tries to keep in mind the mission of the bureau: to see that U.S. national parks are kept in an "unchanged state."
Thie had his first good taste of computers in the early 1960s when as a weather observer for the Air Force he was assigned the task of entering data into a two-story-tall computer. In 1968 he graduated from Ball State University where he majored in geography and minored in geology. He took his first civilian job with Uncle Sam as a geologist at the Defense Logistics Agency. But he saw more promise in the field of computers and began pursuing a master's degree at The American University in Washington D.C. In 1970 he became a computer programmer at DLA.
In 1972 he joined the Environmental Protection Agency and built and managed computer systems for overseeing billions of dollars in grants that were given to state and local governments for sewage-treatment plants. Thie joined the National Park Service in 1989 after a four-year stint as a central computer manager at the U.S. Information Agency.
But there's more to Thie than computers. Born and reared in Indiana Thie is a man who knows how the race track works. He can't help it he is just programmed that way.
"If you're from Indiana you're immersed once a year into the trappings of the Indianapolis 500 " he said.
He's even done a little racing himself. Back in high school he drove a '57 Ford to a quarter-mile track record - 15.44 seconds.
Competition is at the core of another former pastime of Thie's: showing dogs.
"In dog shows most of your judges are former professional handlers " said Thie who explained that many current handlers once trained under those judges. "So if you don't have the right relationship you don't have a snowball's chance."
Does he miss showing dogs? Probably not. What kept him going at it was the competition and he has plenty of that in his current job. "There's a lot of competition and politics " Thie said. "This job has kept me fully occupied you might say."