Avoiding the limelight
- By George I. Seffers
- Jul 09, 2001
Margaret Myers, acting deputy chief information officer at the Defense Department, knows a thing or two about hard work and the art of negotiation.
Myers was loading dishes into the dishwasher in February when she felt a pain in her abdomen. Exams at the hospital revealed a ruptured colon, and doctors told her the injury required immediate surgery. Myers recalls asking when the surgery would take place and being told, "What part of "now' didn't you understand?"
Although the doctor warned Myers she would miss four weeks of work, she negotiated a better timetable. "I didn't like [the surgeon's] answer, so I negotiated with her and was out the first two weeks and worked half time the other two," she said. The timing of her injury was bad because then-deputy CIO Paul Brubaker was leaving for the private sector. Myers, as his principal director, was preparing to assume his duties.
She learned later from a colleague that the injury is sometimes life-threatening.
"She's a tough cookie. Even while she was supposed to be resting, she was in constant contact, reading stuff off from that little red book," Brubaker said, referring to the notebook of things to do Myers constantly carries.
"It's pre-personal digital assistant, but it works for her," Brubaker said. "She's super-organized and never lets anything fall through the cracks."
The injury, Myers said, was a wake-up call to find a better balance between her professional and private lives. Accustomed to working at least 12-hour days, she now limits herself to about 10 1/2 hours. "I could do better" in achieving that balance, she said, laughing.
Myers is responsible for much of the day-to-day CIO responsibilities, which, in her own words, amount to "doing the things that enable others to make things happen."
Her top four professional goals are the same as those of the CIO office and support those outlined in the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. The law recognized the importance of information technology for effective government, created CIO positions and required agencies to link IT investments to accomplishments. The four ongoing goals are aimed at improving the department's procurement process and use of IT and maintaining a well-trained, highly professional IT workforce.
The Pentagon has made progress, especially in the past year, Myers said. It has, for example, released the first version of the Global Information Grid, a worldwide architecture for providing data to military forces, from regional commanders to soldiers in the foxhole.
DOD officials have also improved the process for acquiring IT, forcing offices to buy families of systems capable of sharing information, rather than stand-alone systems. They also have reduced the Pentagon's number of servers, which now take up 16 instead of 70 rooms, and have implemented department.wide software licenses, saving money and improving data sharing capabilities by buying in bulk.
Although Myers has been a key player in each initiative, she claims little credit. "I'm not sure I can ever take credit, personally, for anything that's happened," she said. "I don't do the work. It's the people in the organization who do the work...I can go out and cheerlead for them."
However, that humility sometimes means she doesn't get credit when she deserves it, Brubaker said. "For a long time, she has worked behind the scenes and doesn't draw a lot of attention to herself because she doesn't thump her own chest."