Life's lessons learned
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- May 07, 2001
When Michael Brown left his elementary school teaching career in 1983 to enlist in the U.S. Army, information assurance was barely a blip on the radar screen. Now, Brown's colleagues know him as the father of the Army's information assurance program.
As the new director of the Office of Information Systems Security at the Federal Aviation Administration, Brown hopes to leave a similar impression. The FAA is vastly different from the Army, where Brown spent 22 years on active duty, but he is sure any agency can benefit from a disciplined approach.
"We started from ground zero [with] the Army's program on information assurance. We started much the same way the FAA's doing it now: awareness and education," Brown said. From there, the FAA can follow the model he set at the Army, which is to design plans and programs that cut across different lines of business, then look for funding.
With a background in tactical communications, Brown became director of the Army's Information Assurance Office in 1994. "It's been a ride ever since," Brown said. "It's one of the few jobs I know of where you can decide something today and see it implemented tomorrow."
Brown's ability to create programs that are still being followed made him the ideal candidate for the FAA, said Daniel Mehan, FAA's chief information officer.
"We need someone who has a vision to see where we need to go and the discipline to run it day-to-day," Mehan said, adding that Brown's exper-ience running the Army Information Assurance Office and his approach to problem-solving was a perfect fit.
"All of Mike's references emphasized that he gets things done through teamwork," Mehan said. "That's the way we operate."
For Brown, team building began in his teaching days, which he left when he saw no opportunity to advance into administration. When he and his wife, Kathie, were the first married couple to be hired at Jersey Shore Elementary in Jersey Shore, Pa., they used it as a chance to try team-teaching exercises.
In the Army, he teamed with David Borland, the Army's deputy chief information officer, to develop a network security improvement plan. Similarly, the FAA is creating teams that align the staff of the information security office with the FAA staff designing the future air traffic control system, Mehan said.
Borland, who was Brown's boss when he was director of the Army Information Assurance Office, described him as a "solid citizen."
"There are a lot of information assurance zealots out there," Borland said. "It's one of those things that's a hole no matter how much dirt or money you shovel into it. You can never fill it. You have to look at a whole enterprise and know where to make investments and where to take risks. Mike can do that, especially after his last job." Brown also knows how to relax, Borland said. "He knows how to make fun of himself," he said. "He's the kind of guy you'd like to sit down and have a beer with."
For Brown, relaxing could also mean reading a Tom Clancy novel or scuba diving with his two grown kids. But as one might expect, he'll most likely be tinkering with the latest technology.
"They used to call me Dr. Gadget on the Army staff," Brown said. "I had to have the latest Palm Pilot, all the latest software and gadgets you could get."