SRA attracts top Defense talent
- By Dan Verton
- Aug 08, 1999
Teamwork is an essential ingredient of success, whether you are talking about the military or the information technology business. For many companies, new and old, assembling the right mix of talent and experience can mean the difference between leading the industry and reacting to it.
So what do you do if you are in charge of a software company and you have managed to attract the likes of a former assistant secretary of Defense, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, a White House fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of State for intelligence (who also happens to be the 1988 grand champion of the TV quiz show "Jeopardy")?
For most savvy IT leaders, the answer would be to form a command, control, communications and intelligence division to tap into the roughly $30 billion market in "information superiority"—a term used to describe the C3I technologies being used by military, intelligence and emergency officials to enhance their ability to manage and share vital data.
That is exactly what SRA International Inc. did last month when it set up a C3I systems division under the stewardship of Anthony Valletta in the company's government sector. SRA, which expects to earn $285 million in revenue in fiscal 1999, has tagged Valletta to lead the company's aggressive government C3I program, which he predicts will contribute from $35 million to $40 million to the company's bottom line this year.
In a little more than a year since leaving his position as the Defense Department's acting assistant secretary of Defense for C3I and chief information officer, Valletta has recruited top talent and integrated all of SRA's C3I business units into a single organization with a common vision. Today, SRA's C3I systems division can offer a full array of consultants, technologists and integrators to assist the Defense and intelligence communities in their C3I challenges.
"C3I has been very important to SRA International since its founding," said Ernst Volgenau, president and chief executive officer of SRA International. "SRA is emphasizing this area with strategic hires like Tony Valletta, Jim Clapper, Mark Lowenthal and Tim Atkin," Volgenau said. "Tony Valletta and his new business unit will allow our company to exploit and enhance this expertise in order to better serve the country."
SRA, a 20-year-old company, has a long history of developing software for DOD use. But over that time, the Defense work "has migrated to all different parts of the company," Valletta said. The company "hired me to help re-energize and refocus the C3I business," he said.
Once he got his hands around the company's C3I assets, Valletta turned his attention to building a reputable team that DOD and the intelligence community could trust. "You need good people with the right background and the right experience," Valletta said.
The Team Takes Shape
One of Valletta's first strategic hires was James Clapper, who heads up the company's intelligence programs. Clapper came to SRA from rival Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc., where he headed the military intelligence division.
Clapper, who spent 32 years in the Air Force before retiring in 1995, also held the top position at DIA. He was a congressional consultant on intelligence matters and remains a member of the National Security Agency's Scientific Advisory Board.
"The thing that appealed to me about SRA was the in-house capability that already existed here," Clapper said. "To [properly support DOD and the intelligence community] you need someone who's lived there and managed there. We really need people who understand what is needed from the government's perspective."
Clapper's plans for the C3I division's intelligence business include outsourcing "certain, selected portions of the intelligence cycle," he said.
While "there are some things that should always be within the province of the government," such as technical collection and indications and warnings, SRA was an "analytic house" when it was formed in 1978, and the C3I business push "is really SRA returning to its roots," Clapper said.
Valletta next fixed his gaze upon Mark Lowenthal, who, after completing 23 years of service in intelligence and legislative advisory roles, had a brief stint as a principal for a small company focused on open-source intelligence. Lowenthal, the former deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence—and a "Jeopardy" champion—has written several books and dozens of professional journal articles on national security matters and specializes in developing automated tools to help analysts do their jobs easier.
The CIA has admitted that it is not able to provide global intelligence coverage, according to Lowenthal. "So they have a choice: They can either farm it out or not do it," he said. "The [intelligence] community kept emphasizing another machine, another computer, and that wasn't the answer to the open-source intelligence problem.
"The intelligence community and the government as a whole can't buy technology fast enough," said Lowenthal, who directed a major review of the intelligence community during the 104th Congress.
"Mark and I found that we were soul mates in a lot of ways," Clapper said. In fact, the two had worked together often throughout Clapper's tenure at DIA and Lowenthal's staff directorship at the House Intelligence Committee. "I think Mark and I share a common vision that looks to capitalize on SRA's core capabilities and, ultimately, hand off a finished [intelligence] product to the government," Clapper said.
The critical infrastructure protection program, on which Valletta plans to heavily focus the company's efforts during the next few years, belongs to Tim Atkin, a former White House fellow and staff member of the National Security Council.
Today, SRA's software tools, such as Net-Owl Extractor, are being designed to help intelligence analysts work smarter and avoid being inundated with information from the hundreds of foreign journals and newspapers that are available online. Likewise, the company recently unveiled a new deployable telecommunications package designed for both Defense and civilian emergency officials—broadening its offerings in the field of critical infrastructure support and emergency preparedness.
Through Valletta's C3I team, SRA also offers a complete line of products and services through the Program Safeguard blanket purchase agreement. Through Program Safeguard, government agencies can tap into the company's expertise in infrastructure vulnerability analysis, information assurance and training.
"All of this has been part of our game plan to grow the C3I business," Valletta said. "Just the fact that we have been able to attract these individuals is indicative of the priority and resources put in place by the company to grow this business."
Looking to the Future
With the core leadership of his C3I team taking shape, the road is clear for what Valletta describes as a few more "strategic hires" and a planned acquisition within the next year to help position the company for the post-Year 2000 problem challenges of critical infrastructure protection and tactical C3I support. Although no deals are in the offing, Valletta said any acquisition plans and strategic hiring would be done to support his "one-stop shop" concept for C3I support.
"We're going to take our time to find the right acquisition at the right time," Valletta said. "You can't satisfy all of the different parts of the [C3I] community and the technology requirements with any one acquisition."
Valletta and Clapper said they believe industry provides a critical service to the government and offers experienced professionals an outlet to continue serving the long after they have left their government posts. "We can do things now in industry that we couldn't do on the other side," Valletta said. "We've never stopped supporting this country even though we left government and came to industry."