Education CIO a man on a mission

Staying perfectly still, Craig Luigart looks to the stars. Luigart,

chief information officer at the Education Department, enjoys taking pictures

of objects in space. The hobby requires careful focus and the aid of many

different lenses to bring the objects, which cannot be seen by the naked

eye, into view.

His views of the world are equally unique. Luigart copes with a rare

disease — primary lateral sclerosis (PLS) — that requires him to use a motorized

wheelchair for much of the day. An assortment of gadgets help him answer

his phone and deal with the 200 or so e-mail messages he gets every day.

After a career as a Navy pilot and a four-year stint in the private sector,

Luigart became Education CIO in September 1999. And if his shift from the

public sector to the private sector and back doesn't illustrate his penchant

for bucking tradition, try this on for size: He doesn't care about the money.

"Just like a Navy pilot who is paid next to nothing but is willing to lose

his life for the mission, if I buy into the mission, money is the least

of my concerns," Luigart said.

He has bought into the mission at Education with the same zeal that

brought him safely home after every flight.

After successfully dealing with the Year 2000 rollover, Luigart said

his main areas of focus have been change management, asset management and

security.

"About 90 percent of my job is cultural, and the other 10 percent is technical,"

Luigart said. "Execution means doing things a little bit different than

the status quo, and that's change management."

Part of that effort involved developing a more unified model for Education's

World Wide Web sites, which include some of the most visited sites on the

Internet for parents and educators.

"These sites support teachers' and parents' daily job of educating children,"

he said. "We fund and support hundreds of Web sites nationally, but there

was no good portal model for distributing information."

He used asset management to unify the department's 16 assistant secretaries,

all of who manage individual assets and databases. Luigart restructured

Education's Technology Advisory Board to put a greater focus on information

technology and what it can offer the department. Members have been meeting

every two weeks since October and typically address issues that affect every

office, from implementing change management policies to developing security

models.

Learning to Adapt

A big change in Luigart's life began when he suffered the "worst flu

of my life" after a three-week mission to Pakistan in the summer of 1991.

It took him a full month to recover. About six weeks later, during his daily

five-mile run, Luigart noticed that his left foot was striking the ground

strangely. He figured it was just a problem with his orthotic inserts.

But the problem worsened over the next few months, and when Luigart described

the symptoms to his doctor, the reaction was not what he was expecting.

His feet were not the problem. He underwent a battery of tests of his brain

functions and central nervous system, an MRI and spinal taps.

He was diagnosed with PLS, an affliction that is diagnosed by exclusion,

when doctors have given up on all other possibilities. "In the end, 40 neurologists

voted. Two-thirds said it was PLS, and the other third said it was something

not yet known," Luigart said.

The disease ended his career as a pilot and his physical lifestyle,

which included being a National Ski Patrol member, playing squash and bicycling.

Before being medically retired from the Navy in 1996, Luigart headed the

team at the Department of the Navy's Information Network Program Office

that helped design the Navy's CIO office.

"He's a great visionary on the IT side," said Ron Turner, the Navy's

deputy CIO. Turner has known Luigart for more than 10 years and served as

his deputy at INPO. "He knows how to get things done through people working

together."

In the private sector, Luigart most recently served as the chief technology

officer for Just Medicine Inc., Norcross, Ga., where he helped develop new

mobile clinical technologies. But his disability may have closed more doors

than it opened in the business world.

"My disability didn't come up everywhere I interviewed in four years,

but it happened more times than I'd like to admit," he said.

Luigart said part of the attraction of returning to the public sector

was the "transparency" of the view the government took on his condition.

"When I was weighing my [job] decision, I decided that if you can't look

past my disability, then I don't want to work for you."

"PLS is not life-threatening, it's quality-of-life threatening," Luigart

said. He demonstrated that he can walk, but it is a stilted motion, and

he can't open and close his hands as fast as he used to. Luigart, 45, said

the logical course of the disease will leave his main limbs weak and uncontrollable

by his 60s or 70s.

But that prospect hasn't stopped him from maintaining an optimism about

life. "My goal is just to keep having fun," he said with a smile.

MORE INFO

The Craig Luigart File

Title: Chief information officer at the Education Department.

Background: Luigart, 45, was a career naval officer and pilot. He earneda master's degree in management information systems, graduating with distinctionfrom the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, Calif.

At work: As Education CIO, he manages more than 300 information technologystaff members and contractors, and he helps to develop next-generation educationalprocesses that use emerging technologies.

Personal: He is married with two daughters, Kristen and Alyssa.

BY Dan Caterinicchia
Mar. 20, 2000

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