Keeping time at INS
- By L. Scott Tillett, L. Scott Tillett
- Dec 20, 1998
You may find many innovators among federal information technology executives, but you probably won't find many graduates of The Juilliard School, the Mecca of musical training in the United States. David Goldberg, the deputy associate commissioner for information resources management at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, happens to be both.
As the architect of the agency's billion-dollar Service Technology Alliance Resources (Stars) systems development contract, Goldberg has earned his credentials as a creative and forward-looking IT executive. But many who have come to know him in his current role may not be aware that he spent the early years of his career as a professional musician.
Goldberg's interest in music started early. His parents exposed him to it at an early age, and by the time he was 16, he was performing as an extra percussionist with the Kansas City Philharmonic. Goldberg said he discovered later in life that he had been adopted, his original name was Rockford Shank and his biological father was noted jazz pianist Joe Albany— a discovery that helped explain his musical inclination.
When the time came to attend college, Goldberg chose Juilliard in New York City, where he studied music for four years.
"It was fantastic," Goldberg said of the atmosphere surrounding Juilliard in those days. "This was 1963, before things turned ugly. I miss the stimulation of living in that environment."
While studying in New York, Goldberg played as an extra percussionist with the New York Philharmonic. He also was a member of the New York City Ballet orchestra.
Upon graduation, he faced the draft, so he met the military head-on and auditioned for a spot with the U.S. Army Band. The audition went well, and for the next three years Goldberg drummed for Uncle Sam. When his service was up, he returned to New York and went back to work as a percussionist.
By then, he had married and had had a son. And working as an urban musician for hire proved a difficult method for supporting a family.
Goldberg wanted a steadier gig, such as the one the Army had offered. So he re-enlisted, staying a total of 10 years before leaving the Army band in the late 1970s to pursue a more "normal" job. Goldberg took the requisite federal employment exam and was snapped up quickly as a contract specialist for the Education Department, where he acquired skills in special services, such as those for blind or deaf students. By the time he left the department, around 1980, he had handled a few IT procurements.
In search of a promotion, Goldberg left Education and headed to a contract-specialist job at the Energy Department. There, he became immersed in IT acquisition, moving eventually into oversight of the systems that supported the procurement process.
Then in the late 1980s, he leapfrogged into another promotion, this time at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, where he oversaw the management, development and maintenance of all the commission's application systems.
From FERC, Goldberg moved to NASA, where he worked with planners of space missions and saw firsthand how IT relates to specific goals. "[Space mission planners] are very goal-oriented, and you don't see that in an administrative office," he said. "When you go out into the field and actually see things operating, it gives you a whole new perspective."
The perspective was one that focused on concrete results— a perspective that Goldberg brought with him when he migrated from NASA to INS in 1993, tagging along with his NASA boss Ronald Collison, the current associate commissioner for information resources management at INS.
"We came in at a time when INS, especially in regard to information technology, had been ignored for many years," Goldberg said.
Goldberg was a key architect of INS' Stars strategy, which many view as a highly innovative program. Stars seeks to foster vendor cooperation through monetary incentives and to promote efficiency by designating a single vendor as an independent overseer of systems integration efforts.
Getting INS workers to run the agency more like a business still proves to be a challenge. "I wish we could have moved toward this business model before now," he said. "I think it's terribly slow. It's a complete change in the culture here. People don't understand it, and people don't like change. It scares [them]."
Goldberg seems undaunted by following a business model. "I think he has a tremendous grasp of the essential business requirements [that] are absolutely critical to managing and operating a growing, complex infrastructure and programs and projects," said John Guttenberg, special assistant to the executive associate commissioner for management at INS.
Others praise Goldberg's creativity. "The guy is absolutely a visionary when it comes to procurement," said Mike Hatcher, the Stars program manager for vendor Electronic Data Systems Corp. "He never ceases to amaze me with the procurement ideas he comes up with."
But beneath the businesslike veneer, Goldberg is a dedicated family man. He and his second wife, Rosemary, a procurement analyst at INS, have five children, and he has four grandchildren— the apples of his eye, according to Hatcher. "He is an absolute head-over-heels softy where his grandkids are concerned," Hatcher said.