Realizing a vision
- By Greg Langlois
- Sep 05, 1999
Ask the Commerce Department's Karen Hogan what event spawned her successful career in government, and she will tell you about the career paper she had to write as a 10th-grade student in Virginia Beach, Va."I was trying to figure out what career to research, and my mom suggested library science sort of out of the blue," she said. "I did my research and was telling her about it, and she said, 'Well, who's the main librarian in the whole United States?' "
The head of the Library of Congress, Hogan replied, noting that the position was classified as a GS-18—nowadays equivalent to a Senior Executive Service (SES) position. According to Hogan, her mother concluded, "Well, that's where you ought to go."
Hogan took that idea to heart. "That kind of thinking is why I am where I am today—aim for the top, set your goals high, work hard and get there," she said.
Today, she works at Commerce headquarters in a fifth-floor office that is serving as the hub of the department's new Digital Department initiative, an ambitious effort to make all department functions nearly paperless by 2002. Commerce Secretary William Daley tapped Hogan to lead the effort, which he announced in June, and directed her to supply him with a working plan within 45 days.
The task is well-suited for Hogan, whose life experience has made her eager to accept difficult challenges and leave lasting contributions.
Most people in the government information technology community will recognize Hogan, previously chief information officer and associate director for IT at the Census Bureau, as Karen Gregory. Indicative of her comfort with taking on a full plate, Hogan remarried one Saturday in June and officially began her new job the next day.
Hogan's job is to devise a plan to realize Daley's and Commerce CIO Roger Baker's vision of a fully digitized department. The goal is to have the department conduct as much of its business as possible electronically, primarily using Web-based technologies. Much of the plan will focus on how to conduct paper-based processes such as payroll, time and attendance and travel reimbursement electronically. A major portion of the plan will focus on development of a departmentwide intranet, which Commerce currently does not have.
In some ways, the reliance on Internet technology represents a culmination of Hogan's career. While pursuing library science at Madison College (now James Madison University) in Harrisonburg, Va., she became fascinated by a vision of a library system in which one could research any book anywhere in the world.
"And of course that's where the Internet is taking us," Hogan said. "The Internet technologies have sort of created for us the black box everybody was looking for to give us that connectivity without having to redesign everything."
After graduation, Hogan worked for three years as an elementary school librarian in Virginia Beach. After taking time off to raise her two children, she took a position with the Navy in Mechanicsburg, Pa., where she completed a computer programming course.
She then moved to the Washington, D.C., area in 1985 to work on a project at the Naval Supply and Systems Command headquarters. After a four-year stint at the command's research and development office, Hogan joined the Defense Logistics Agency as chief of its systems integration division, where she managed a number of systems and DLA's worldwide telecommunications network. After that, she moved to the Defense Information Systems Agency for two years.
She accepted her first SES-level job—though not as head of Library of Congress, as originally planned—at the Patent and Trademark Office, serving as an administrator for PTO computer and telecommunications operations. In 1997, she moved to Census, where she was responsible for overseeing bureau IT planning, training and legislative compliance.
"I found throughout my career, and especially in the early years, that I had people who would offer me challenging things that were sort of beyond my level [and] say, 'Do you want to go do this?' and I would," she said. "That's why I think I've gotten where I've gotten. I ended up with a rich background of a variety of IT experiences, doing just about everything along the way to some level of depth and breadth."
The challenge for Hogan and others involved in the Digital Department initiative is as much cultural as technical. It will involve pushing workers to change ingrained attitudes and welcome modernization. Hogan was tapped to lead this effort not only because of her IT background but also because of her success in working with people. "It seems that I've had a lot of people experience, and so I try to understand why people behave the way they do and [I] tend to have a fair amount of patience with that," she said. "And that's helped me out a lot both at home and at work, in all things that I do."
Hogan maintains a focus on people outside of work as well, whether it is with family, friends or people with whom she volunteers. She and her husband enjoy vacationing overseas and have been to Great Britain and France together, and they plan to move beyond Western Europe to places such as Istanbul and Cairo. In October, they will honeymoon in Scotland for two weeks. Hogan also enjoys what she calls "low-stress golf"—golfing for fun with her friends. "That's one area where I don't try to achieve," she joked. "I just try to play my best and have fun at the same time."
Despite her new marriage and new job, Hogan managed to spend a week in July volunteering in the Appalachian community of War, W.Va. As part of a church group, Hogan helped instruct children to use computers, relying on the skills she developed when she worked at the elementary school level.Hogan also has developed a passion for medieval history. She's an avid reader of medieval historical novels and has grown to appreciate how people back then were able to create huge, intricate structures with limited resources.
"It's a real interesting period of time. People had tremendous challenges to live with and [yet] they created wonderful things," she said. "They still moved forward and learned and grew a culture.... So there's a lot of strength I see in those kind of people to just deal with what comes. They just make do and go on and create great things anyway.... I'm not sure if someone gave us a hunk of stone and a carving tool that we would have the patience to create anything, let alone a lot of beauty."
Hogan has been given a late 20th-century equivalent of a hunk of stone—Commerce's vision of becoming a fully digitized department—and the tools available to her are Web-based technologies. If all goes according to plan, by 2002, a departmentwide infrastructure will be in place to make Commerce more efficient than ever. To Hogan, the project is like building a lasting cathedral.
"You have a lot of projects that one way or another make differences, but some of them aren't very noticeable, and some of them don't live very long," Hogan said. "I think this will make a huge difference and will be noticeable."