Bureau of Indian Affairs helps its customers
- By Sarita Chourey
- May 31, 2004
John DeHoyos starts the day with a breakfast of deep-fried bread, sausages and eggs, the kind his mother used to make when he was growing up. Then he commutes for half an hour to the Rocky Boy Reservation in northern Montana where his job is to bring 21st-century technology to the American Indian community.
DeHoyos, a Crow who lives in Montana but reports to the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs, is one of a handful of BIA employees working in the field, where distances are far and wireless communication may not exist.
But the most striking challenges of his job are not technological. The biggest problems are the weather, the road conditions, and the horses and cattle that cross the roads on the fenceless prairie, he said. Once a week, depending on how much snowfall the area gets, DeHoyos takes a two-hour trip to Bear Paw Mountain to work on the area's radio station.
DeHoyos helps tribal information technology specialists set up networks, strengthen physical security, install equipment and relocate servers that are scattered throughout the reservation. He is also preparing a strategy to consolidate the servers into one.
"I have been accepted, and I feel like I am very much a part of the family," DeHoyos said. "I am Crow Indian, and they are Chippewa. We are one. It's been a long time coming....The gates have always been closed. I am hoping the communication link will get much stronger down the line."
DeHoyos is part of BIA's intergovernmental personnel agreement. The exchange program is one of the bureau's newest initiatives to unify its dispersed workforce and promote the understanding of how all of its parts relate to the whole.
"We've gotten out into Indian country more than in the past, and that's instrumental," said Brian Burns, chief information officer at BIA. "It's one thing to talk about it and read about it, but it's another thing to see it, feel it and be there."
In addition to DeHoyos' program, BIA officials are conducting a two-week program that exchanges BIA employees among the Washington, D.C., headquarters and agencies in the field. A third initiative allows students from tribal colleges to take part in a program to get IT experience at BIA.
Traditionally, Burns explained, there has been a headquarters vs. field point of view at BIA. "What we're trying to show is that it all fits together— and not into just the field's or headquarters' [philosophy] — that we understand each person's perspective."
The two-week program is still in its early stages. Each session will include about a dozen people representing the 12 major regions of American Indian country coming to BIA headquarters for training.
The program will include a variety of areas within the CIO organization — information management or IT, capital planning and policy. "Traditionally, the field view is that we're an operations organization," Burns said.
As BIA employees such as DeHoyos are adjusting to the rugged conditions of reservation life, IT workers from the field who move to the nation's capital will face a different culture shock.
Burns said fitting into the corporate culture at headquarters will call for the most dramatic adjustment. In the past, he said, the field employees have "had to be the jack of all trades. They were required to do everything because they were on their own."
That contrasts with the national headquarters, where the focus is on dealing with Congress and the Office of Management and Budget.
"It's a different realm in terms of what the focus has been," Burns said. "From the field perspective, it's been focused on the regional agency and tribal needs."