Answering the call at the FAA

Spending 30 years at AT&T before launching his government career three months ago, Daniel Mehan, chief information officer at the Federal Aviation Administration, knows firsthand what it is like to be in the middle of a major organizational change.

The divestiture of AT&T and the resulting challenges it faced in the wake of a changing telecommunications industry are experiences that Mehan thinks will serve him well as the FAA's first CIO.

"If I look at the strengths I bring to the FAA, I think part of that is a lot of experience with taking organizations through a transformation," he said. "I think that's important because part of what the FAA is involved in is a cultural transformation."

The FAA is in the midst of a multibillion-dollar modernization program that will upgrade facilities and equipment to reduce airspace congestion and improve safety and security. In addition, in facing the Year 2000 computer problem, information security and acquisition reform, Mehan has more than a simple task-filled bureaucratic job on his hands.

As CIO, Mehan has been tasked with examining information technology investments and drafting a comprehensive strategy for IT that crosses all lines of business in the agency. "This puts on the team someone who has extensive experience in private industry," he said. "I think that brings a different perspective."

One of the challenges he faces is finding ways the FAA can change to meld its business practices with how the federal government operates, he said.

Mehan looks forward to the unsettled life of a public servant, particularly at the embattled FAA. "When I retired from AT&T, I was interested in doing something different and exciting - that would be a learning experience for me - and also something where I thought [I] would have an impact." And the FAA filled the bill.

Even Mehan's three grown children have taken an interest in his new position, though perhaps not in a way he would prefer. Soon after Mehan started with the FAA, the agency received an F from Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) for its efforts to fix the Year 2000 problem. His children called to remind him - and tease him - that they were expected to get A's and B's growing up. Still, Mehan stressed, the FAA will be ready by June 30.

Although the CIO post is Mehan's first public-sector job, he is not new to Washington, D.C. He serves on the board of directors of the Telecommunications Training Institute. Before accepting the FAA post, he was the international vice president of quality and process management at AT&T. He was also the products and marketing vice president and CIO for AT&T's overseas business.

"I have a lot of experience in bringing diverse teams together and working to form virtual organizations and virtual teams that span a large organization," he said.

The FAA's CIO organization will be a virtual organization of sorts. Although 50 to 100 employees report to Mehan, the FAA has no plans to move all of the agency's IT workers into a single IT unit.

Mehan holds degrees in electrical engineering and operations research, which he said provide analytical skills.

Although being the FAA's first CIO carries challenges, Mehan is looking forward to starting with a clean slate. "I think there is an advantage that comes with newness," he said.

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