Taking on the tough assignments

When the Internal Revenue Service advertised for an executive who was not

"faint of heart," Brian Burns knew the job was for him.

That's how Burns moved from the private sector to government, when most

people with his skills and experience were heading the other way.

But Burns, 38, has never shied away from the tough assignments. As the

deputy chief information officer at the Department of Health and Human Services,

he's created his own tough challenge: changing the face of information technology

through a plan that shakes up how IT is managed.

"As we move out with an e-government strategy, everything we're putting

out on the Web has to be secure from hackers, and we need a secure infrastructure

to protect it," Burns said during a recent interview.

His plan — Enterprise Infrastructure Management — sounds simple, but

he knows it will take time to make it work.

Burns began developing EIM during his two-year stint at the Internal

Revenue Service, where parts of it have been implemented, and he took the

idea with him when he moved to HHS a year ago.

The plan gets accolades from everybody who sees it. "It is a superb

plan. It bears his mark," said Alan Balutis, director of the Commerce Department's

Advanced Technology Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Coming from the private sector, where he was a consultant and a computer

architect, Burns said he has a different way of looking at and solving problems — a skill that is both applauded and criticized.

Although he brings a fresh perspective to solving problems, he said

people have two ways of looking at his background: "You didn't grow up through

the government," and "you're not thinking like a government person," he

said.

Burns also approaches his task with training in engineering and psychology,

in which he learned how to design computer applications so people respond

to them better.

As an undergraduate at Drexel University in Philadelphia, he studied

electrical and computer engineering. As a graduate student at George Mason

University in Fairfax, Va., he received a master of arts in psychology for

human factors engineering.

Burns likes to say it is "one of those degrees that's great for cocktail

parties," but his degree specialized in looking at human/computer interactions

and developing systems that are easier for people to use.

In his spare time, Burns has sung bass for 15 years with Voyage, a Christian

folk group that has produced three albums. But there isn't much spare time

these days as government fast-forwards to the Digital Age, Burns acknowledged.

"We're just at the beginning," he said.

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