The right stuff
- By Heather Harreld
- May 01, 2000
Government is entering a new era in which information technology will transform
the way it works. But who will lead the charge?
Of the estimated 70,000 IT workers employed by the federal government,
almost half could leave government service in the next five years, according
to the CIO Council. Of the nearly 32,000 IT workers leaving, 7,000 will
leave through attrition and 25,000 could retire.
Now a new generation of federal IT leaders is coming up through the
ranks. To identify some of those who will lead the effort to create a digital
government, Federal Computer Week interviewed dozens of public- and private-sector
They told us that the next generation of IT leaders must be well-versed
in technology, but not to the extent that they will be considered "techies."
In particular, IT security skills will be highly sought after. The IT leaders
of the new millennium will know how to apply technology to meet agency missions.
And, as is the case with most effective leaders, they must have a talent
for conveying their vision for IT and winning support.
"The technologist of old, who could not understand the business profession — that technologist is becoming obsolete," said Gloria Parker, chief information
officer at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and co-chairwoman
of the CIO Council's work force committee. "They're not going to be the
super techie types. They'll be project management types, analysis types...with
a strong technology background. They will be able to manage IT projects
and investments and the contracting base a lot better than we do today."
Techies With Flair
Many of today's federal IT managers did not come with backgrounds in
technology — they were good managers. But tomorrow's leader will be a bit
more steeped in technology. One area the new leaders will have cut their
teeth on, experts say, is security.
Dick Schaeffer, director of infrastructure and information assurance for
command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) at the Defense Department,
is an example of a next-generation IT leader.
Schaeffer is "the foremost authority within the department on information
assurance issues," said Bill Leonard, acting deputy assistant secretary
of defense for security and information operations for C3I.
The government is full of IT professionals who know a lot about security.
But Schaeffer also is equally adept at working on policy issues with senior
Pentagon leaders and politicians.
"He recognizes the technical aspects of it as just part of the equation — equally important...is the people part," Leonard said. "He has a good
grasp of the policy issues...how to get things done. What you need to do
occasionally is literally knock some heads together for people who are focused
principally on functionality... and don't want that functionality impeded
by increased security."
Experts agree that IT professionals who understand the importance of security
for digital government and some of its technical aspects will rise to leadership
Judith Spencer, director of the General Services Administration's Center
for Government- wide Security, is one of the government IT executives who
gets it. Spencer heads GSA's efforts to offer public-key infrastructure
services to other agencies and to create interoperability among PKIs in
the government. PKI entails the policies and framework needed to manage
the use of digital signatures to secure electronic transactions.
Spencer's knowledge about security puts her "right at the centerpiece of
PKI" for the entire federal government, said Richard Guida, chairman of
the Federal PKI Steering Committee. "While she isn't an engineer, she does
understand a lot of the technical substance. In those areas where she lacks
expertise, she surrounds herself with very capable people." Guida said.
Security involves challenges that most IT leaders in years past did not
have to face.
Charlotte Knepper, director for encryption policy at the National Security
Council, leads the Interagency Working Group for Cryptography, which tackles
encryption policy and related e-commerce and security issues. Knepper and
the group must balance national security objectives with law enforcement
and public-safety priorities while ensuring that e-commerce will flourish
and citizens' privacy rights will be protected.
This balancing act can be tricky in the often contentious security and encryption
arena, said Bruce McConnell, president of McConnell International and former
director of the International Y2K Coordination Center.
"She brings a combination of creativity, good sense, dedication and an ability
to work with people who have many different viewpoints to solve the tough
problems in information security," McConnell said.
For some leaders, the more basic challenge of knowing how to apply technical
expertise will be an invaluable skill. David Korsmeyer, chief information
technology architect in NASA's CIO office and the technical group lead at
Ames Research Center's computational sciences division, has helped NASA
save time and money with his work on database management and integration.
For example, Korsmeyer has developed a method to allow remote users to
access internal wind tunnel systems at Ames, run tests and analyze the results.
In the past, when users ran a test, the wind tunnels had to be shut down
for several days to retrieve the results.
"He's taken existing technology and combined that with custom work that's
necessary when the solution is not available in off-the-shelf solutions,"
said Peter Norvig, chief of the computational sciences division at Ames.
Korsmeyer also combines the expertise with strong management skills.
"He's doing the technical work, managing a project...and also doing some
program work," Norvig said. "It's been easier for us to find technical people.
We can usually get our share of Ph.D.s. We can also get the experienced
NASA program manager. But it's hard to get the person who has all of those
skills in one."
Government Goes Dot-Com
Just as corporations are trying to lure the best and brightest e-commerce
talent to form electronic ventures, so too is the federal government. Those
managers who have a business understanding of e-commerce will do well, experts
Stephen Hawald, CIO of the Office of Student Financial Assistance Programs
(OSFAP), is trying to make e-commerce work for the Education Department.
Hawald's technical background includes designing financial systems for major
telecommunications and software companies, such as MCI WorldCom, Deltek Systems
Inc. and U.S. LAN Systems Inc.
At OSFAP, Hawald is launching e-commerce initiatives to move the college
loan application process to the Internet, developing Web portals designed
to increase customer service and forging partnerships with other agencies
and the private sector to develop new technology.
Hawald is infusing the agency with new ideas and enthusiasm, "moving
things at Web-speed, about four times the normal pace for government systems,"
said Greg Woods, chief operating officer at OSFAP.
The Social Security Administration also may spawn some of the government's
top IT leaders in the next five years. A leading candidate is Tony Trenkle,
director of electronic services at SSA. He coordinates, develops and implements
electronic services to the public.
"Tony has to understand the technology, the industry and pull it together,"
said John Dyer, SSA CIO. "[He] has been our point man on all the e-business.
Tony is not just looking internally...he is also interested at looking at
where the government is going."
Trenkle says the IT leaders of the future will be those who have a working
technical knowledge of e-commerce applications and how to tie them to an
agency's legacy systems. In addition, future IT leaders must have a strong
grasp on customer service.
"The customers are going to be accessing you through the Internet and
are going to be interested in doing one-stop shopping," Trenkle said. "We're
moving from systems that support employees to systems that support the public."
IT leaders also will make work easier for government employees and make
them more effective. A good example is the work Mark Tanner is doing as
information resources manager at the FBI. Tanner is in charge of eFBI, a
project to move the FBI from a mainframe architecture to a Web-enabled architecture,
thereby establishing an intranet for the FBI.
"He was brought in to help look at IT from an agent's practical perspective.
Mark understands and appreciates IT...and certainly understands that the
agents of today have to be proficient in tool sets. He's also been pushing
slowly but surely to move the FBI to a distributed environment. He also
recognizes that the Internet is important," said Mary Ellen Condon, program
director for civilian government systems at SRA International Inc.
Old-Time Management Skills
Although the government's new IT leaders will have developed skills
in cutting-edge technol- ogies and applications, experts say the traditional
skills of managing IT projects and pulling together IT staffs across agencies
will still be in high demand.
Gary Wang, network-centric infrastructure project manager at the Space
and Naval Warfare Systems Command, has the kind of project management skills
that the top IT managers say will be needed in the future.
"In addition to technical skills, Gary has excellent program management
skills," said Sarah Lamade, director of corporate operations and planning
and CIO at Spawar. "He brings a needed discipline to the process of revamping
the corporate IT infrastructure. In addition, he is an outstanding leader.
He is respected by his colleagues and subordinates, to the point of getting
buy-in to change the way we do business today."
One vital skill for future leaders is the ability to build a bridge
between the agency's technology community and the program community to help
eliminate the obstacles to providing electronic access to government services,
such as Web-enabling legacy systems and justifying excess program funds.
For example, Anne Reed, vice president of the global government industry
group at Electronic Data Systems Corp. and former CIO of the Agriculture
Department, said many top IT managers must develop strong budgeting skills.
"It's frustrating to know what you need to do to support your customer and
have so many obstacles to overcome," Reed said. "The technology itself is
pretty user-friendly. The trick is to understand how to make good decisions
about what to invest in and how to execute program delivery."
Some of the strongest management skills will be needed in the Office
of Management and Budget, which could take on a stronger role in overseeing
IT projects. The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at OMB could
be at the center of making sure agencies are on the right track.
Seasoned IT managers at OMB point to Jasmeet Seehra, senior policy analyst
at OIRA, as having the knowledge to take government in the right direction.
Seehra is "extraordinarily knowledgeable about her subject area and determined,
even driven, to ensure that good government prevails," said Sally Katzen,
counsel to the director and nominated to be deputy director for management
Katzen said Seehra deals with broad policy issues and understands the
larger context of agency-specific issues. "She is quick to discern where
to invest resources and when to move past an effort that will produce little
effect on the overarching goals," Katzen said.
As director for professional IT development at GSA, Emory Miller is
responsible for developing programs to train the government's IT leaders.
He also must find ways to work with broad IT issues and find common ground
"He works very well horizontally," said Marty Wagner, associate administrator
for governmentwide policy at GSA. "He's very good at the marketing, the
outreach, conveying what needs to be done. The perfect chief information
officer is someone who's going to have one leg in the program and one in
the technology. He lives well in both worlds."
Seehra and Miller are the kinds of leaders that government will need to
become fully digital, including communicating across agencies to develop
new technology applications that can span multiple agency missions, McConnell
"We're moving into a much more horizontal management style that puts
a premium on the ability to collaborate," he said.
The foundation for cross-agency collaboration was laid during cooperative
efforts to stamp out the Year 2000 bug, said Condon. Future IT leaders will
be handling interoperability questions, e-commerce initiatives and other
tasks that will require them to look outside their agency for answers.
"There's probably going to be less face-to-face interaction and more groupware
and electronic interaction," she said. "People, in order to make that work,
have to have a comfort level with each other."
Harreld is a freelance writer based in Cary, N.C.