Going the distance
- By Megan Lisagor
- May 05, 2003
Karen Evans has no qualms about taking the long road. Not only does Evans drive 95 miles to work at the Energy Department in Washington, D.C., every day, she has also risen through the federal ranks from park interpreter to chief information officer.
Evans, 44, knocks off goals like pins in a bowling alley.
Take her latest milestone. She wanted to join the Senior Executive Service around her 40th birthday. When that date came and went, she readied for a career change. Then, days before turning 42, she landed the CIO job at Energy.
The timing may have surprised Evans, but not those who know her.
"Since her arrival one year ago, Karen has transformed the way DOE thinks about information technology," said Kyle McSlarrow, deputy secretary of Energy.
Evans' post at the department caps off a long journey that began during college with a National Park Service job. She may have kept giving tours at Harper's Ferry in West Virginia, the state she calls home, if it weren't for some sage advice.
"My dad said I needed to get health benefits," she re-called recently from her office in Washington.
Following graduation from West Virginia University, Evans signed on as a clerk typist at the Office of Personnel Management. And that's when she started commuting.
She never intended for it to become a permanent part of her routine, but then she got engaged and her fiance was accepted to dental school. Working for the government seemed like a good way to get ahead. "From there, the rest is history," she said.
Evans began scaling the General Service career ladder at OPM, nearly completing an accounting degree (one credit shy) and picking up a master's in business administration along the way. Perhaps more important, though, her supervisor encouraged her to learn about computers.
So when Evans moved to the Agriculture Department as a management analyst, she cruised right into information resource support and became the administrator for the office's system. Soon she was managing a $109 million IT budget.
"This is when the change starts happening," she said.
Graced with another supportive boss, Evans was sent to training courses that taught her how to maintain desktop equipment. That proved propitious when a quality assurance branch was formed. She transferred, switching tracks to computer specialist.
"We were right on the front line seeing a lot of what became issues for change management," she said.
By the time Evans left the USDA, she was deputy director for the agency's applications management division, a position that encompassed such areas as telecommunications support and that allowed her to showcase the benefits of Web-based programs.
Then a call came in 1996 from a former supervisor — "Have I got a job for you." — and Evans was whisked off to the Justice Department to help bring the Internet to desktops departmentwide.
The job, based in Rockville, Md., cut her commute in half and, more importantly, put her in the trenches of e-government and cybersecurity early on. By the time the year 2000 rolled around, Evans was running an entire IT shop in the Office of Justice Programs.
That qualified her to serve on the Office of Management and Budget's E-Government Task Force, which developed the 24 cross-agency initiatives highlighted by the Bush administration.
By early 2002, she was on board at DOE. Evans quickly set up her own mini task force that identified 19 core e-government initiatives that are now in motion and helped broker a massive deal with a small business.
On those and other programs, she reports directly to the secretary — she's the first Energy CIO to do so.
"Her corporate approach to IT is a great complement to the management objectives set forth by" Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, McSlarrow said. "Working with Karen, we have all developed a tremendous respect for her abilities and were not surprised to see her peers elect her to the position of vice chair of the CIO Council."
Despite her ever-expanding to-do list, Evans has another full-time job.
"My goal is to be a good mother," she said. "I just think that you have to make your decisions and not feel guilty about them."
Even after waking up at 3:30 a.m. to make it to DOE headquarters at a reasonable hour (between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., depending on traffic), performing her CIO duties, then trekking home, she finds the energy to cook dinner for her family in West Virginia, where her husband is a dentist and where her heart is. n