Breaking down barriers

Shortly before dawn each morning, Melissa Chapman, chief information officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, hits the road for a 90-minute drive to her office.

She uses her commute to begin her workday with her wireless phone and a handheld computer while her husband steers their blue sport utility vehicle down Interstate 66 from Front Royal, Va., to downtown Washington, D.C.

Although the commute is nothing new, she has been the CIO at one of the largest federal agencies only since July 2002.

"You have to be a change junkie to like your job," said Chapman, sitting in her office with a bird's-eye view of the U.S. Capitol. If change isn't something you think is good, you are in the wrong place, she said.

With the demands of consolidating functions, eliminating redundancies, delivering better services to the public and increasing security after Sept. 11, 2001, there is plenty of opportunity to embrace change at HHS, Chapman said. As part of that, she must determine how to use HHS' $2 billion information technology budget.

She is especially proud of HHS' Web site, which has been redesigned to make it citizen-friendly. She's working on an enterprise architecture plan for the vast department and an enterprisewide public-key infrastructure for conducting secure transactions.

Chapman seeks ways to deal with projects within HHS and across government while working with the 13 CIOs who make up the HHS CIO Council. She also is helping direct IT programs, including e-government, and modernizing the department's network.

In her sights are plans to unify the department's financial management system, which includes payroll and retirement. "HHS is rapidly working to modernize its infrastructure," she said.

At 36, she is one of the youngest IT executives in government. But challenges are nothing new for Chapman, who was trained as an aerospace engineer and helped develop the F-18 while working for McDonnell Douglas Corp. in St. Louis.

Chapman sees herself not just as an agent of change, a manager or a technology worker, but as a translator for many different groups. "It's going to take a long time," she said. "People become threatened by IT. It is important to instill a sense of trust to ensure that we enable the process with good IT."

Chapman started her government career as a GS-7 at the Food and Drug Administration in 1991, following in her father's footsteps. She rose through the ranks to become the FDA's acting CIO.

"She had a very good grasp of the FDA culture. She knew all our systems," said Jeff Weber, FDA's acting senior associate commissioner for management and systems. And with her engineering background, "she was always analyzing the situation, coming up with the best decision rather than making a rash decision."

Her hardest job may still lie ahead.

"We successfully implemented technology within each operating division for almost 20 years, but now our challenge is to develop and implement cross-department solutions that enable our programs to work together seamlessly," Chapman said.

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The Melissa Chapman file

Title: Chief information officer, Department of Health and Human Services.

Professional experience: An executive with the Food and Drug Administration, most recently as acting CIO. She oversaw more than $200 million in information technology expenditures. She also has been a senior manager at the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation Research and Center for Biologic Evaluation and Research.

Personal: She married her high school sweetheart, Edward Turner. They met in second grade, dated in high school and married after college. They have a 5-year-old son. Turner is vice president for information technology at the Building Owners and Managers Association International.

Education: She graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1989 with a B.S. in aerospace engineering.

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