A career man

During his 30-plus-year career at the Commerce Department, Tom Pyke knows what it's like to be in the trenches — and in the hot seat.

Fresh out of high school, Pyke landed a summer job at what is now the department's National Institute of Standards and Technology, where he wrote a programming manual for a new computer.

Today, he's the Commerce Department's chief information officer and in charge of a $1.5 billion information technology budget that must be used wisely and deliver results.

Pyke said his technology background, education, training and varied experience all help him in his job as CIO. "I don't think you can manage well, I don't think you can be a good CIO by sitting in the CIO's office and telling people what to do," he said.

As CIO, he has to be a motivator, a cheerleader and an explainer. People need to understand "why it's important that they improve their IT security," Pyke said. Of course, he is also part enforcer. "You have to have that big stick in your pocket because it's important to have that authority when you need it."

Fortunately, the department's CIO structure, which the secretary approved about 20 months ago and is finally in place departmentwide, provides him that authority, he said.

"One reason the CIO structure works in the department is because the deputy secretary and the secretary stand behind it," he said. For example, Pyke is involved in reviewing the bureaus' performance along with the deputy secretary and the chief financial officer. Under the structure, each operating unit must have a CIO that reports to the agency head or department head. "It's perfect for Commerce, which is a diverse organization."

Another effort — the Commerce IT Review Board — involves Pyke, the budget director, procurement director and other senior managers, including other CIOs in the department. The group reviews all requests for new IT projects, and it also reviews every major IT project every three years. Further, it will begin to review how well the entire process works, Pyke said.

He took the reins as CIO almost a year and a half ago, during the restructuring and when the department was under pressure to tighten its IT security — an effort that has become a top priority for Pyke. Last month, he issued the department's first comprehensive IT security policy. That work was second nature for him. His work at NIST included putting out IT security guidelines and standards for agencies.

Now, IT security is a personal priority for each of the undersecretaries and assistant secretaries of organizational units and directors of operating units in Commerce. The CIO's office issues policy guidance, policy direction and minimum implementation standards for IT security and other areas, Pyke said, and the bureaus and their managers can adapt them for their own use.

Another important role for the CIO's office is to help the department take advantage of leading-edge technology to get its job done better and at least cost, Pyke said.

For example, the department just finished installing a single gigabit network that can be used for voice and data, including voice over IP, which is up and running now. The phone system itself replaces about 130 smaller phone systems throughout the building. "This is a single system, with a single support staff, with a single way of connecting to the outside world," Pyke said.

Pyke was the first CIO at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before being tapped as Commerce's CIO. "NOAA needed a CIO and I knew something about IT and computers and satellites," he said.

Carl Staton, CIO at NOAA, has worked with Pyke for 15 years. "He brings boundless vision and energy to any task he takes on," Staton said. "His passion and enthusiasm for [IT] is infectious and is evident within seconds to those meeting Tom for the first time."

Pyke's support is useful in a number of ways, Staton said. "He provides very accurate constructive criticism to projects or proposals, not to shoot them down, but to enhance and improve them."

"I really think a CIO, whether at the NOAA or Commerce level, [has to be] tech savvy and needs to have a good business acumen because this is a business management job," Pyke said. "And leadership skills are essential. You have to motivate people and help them do it and guide them."


Title: Chief information officer, Commerce Department.

Previous experience: CIO and director of High Performance Computing and Communications at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and director of the GLOBE program, an international science and education program. He joined NOAA as assistant administrator for satellite and information services. He began his career at the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology), where he was director of the Center for Computer Systems Engineering and then director of the Center for Programming Science and Technology.

Education: He earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering as a Westinghouse Scholar at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and a master's in computer systems as a Ford Foundation Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.

Currently reading: "A Beautiful Mind." Pyke held the same fellowship that John Nash did at the Carnegie Institute of Technology.

Of note: Pyke is of Italian and Greek descent.


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