CIO wants to move TSA beyond start-up mode

David Zeppieri, the Transportation Security Administration's new chief information officer, is a man of transition. Although he's been on the job for only four months, Zeppieri already has moved his office twice during the renovation of TSA's headquarters near the Pentagon in Arlington, Va.

Despite the fluctuating office arrangements, he must remain motivated to

accomplish the agency's evolving goals

of protecting the nation's transportation systems.

"We're not in the start-up phase now," Zeppieri said. After the Sept. 11, 2001,

terrorist attacks, TSA officials quickly

enacted several programs. One of his biggest challenges is motivating his staff, he said.

"You just can't do everything at once," he said in a recent interview. "They're tired. And now, we're getting ready to make a right turn."

Nevertheless, Zeppieri keeps his staff focused on their mission: using technology to prevent terrorism and keep passengers and their baggage moving on time.

He also provides technical support on programs such as the Transportation Worker Identification Card, which will provide biometric ID cards to all airport workers; the Registered Traveler program, which allows frequent fliers to quickly pass through airport metal detectors; and the Information Technology Managed Services project, a billion-dollar performance-based contract awarded to Unisys Corp. to develop the agency's IT infrastructure.

"My job is to be the conductor," he said.

And this job may be the most challenging one he's faced, he said. When he started at TSA, he asked for an assessment of the CIO organization. Following the survey of the status of the agency's technology, he is producing a top 10 list of priorities for the next 18 months.

Zeppieri also works with new technologies for airports, including diagnostic remote scanning and explosive-detection systems. "As we do [IT] solutions, it's my job to make sure they're portable," he said.

In his last job as CIO at the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Zeppieri helped modernize the office's grant management process, Internet-based communications and service-delivery environment. He would like to make similar changes at TSA.

Zeppieri will use what worked at OJP. "I became quite good at balancing my agency's priorities against the larger programs and common solutions being developed at the department level for use by all subordinate components," he said. "TSA, as an organizational entity of [the Homeland Security Department], is largely following a similar model."

His former boss, Justice CIO Vance Hitch, said Zeppieri brought enthusiasm and motivation to his former job

and should have no problem doing the same at TSA. "He picked out people

he knew could do the job and lead the pack," Hitch said.

Although Zeppieri can employ most of

the skills he perfected at OJP, the two agencies have a different history. Justice has a vast array of systems that have existed for more than 60 years. Luckily, TSA does not have the same environment, Zeppieri said. He is using the immaturity of the program to his benefit. "We're always in 'go' mode," he said.

Zeppieri is also proud of his staff. "We really have some people who care." For Zeppieri and three of his division directors, their jobs require them to work long hours and weekends.

Theresa Bertucci, TSA's acting chief of staff, speaks highly of Zeppieri. Bertucci, who worked with him at Justice, said Zeppieri is willing to listen to users' needs and worries about "what we can deliver on the front line."

"One of the first things he did was take a trip to the airport," Bertucci said.

Within the next 60 days, she said, TSA will provide high-speed connectivity to federal security directors at 16 airports that don't have this capability.

For a workaholic like Zeppieri, life

includes more challenges than a career. With what time he has to spare, he is

pursuing a doctorate in IT at George Mason University. Although he's not in classes now, Zeppieri is determined to earn the doctorate.

"I will finish it," he said. He may sneak in a course this summer, if he can sit still long enough.


  • Workforce
    Shutterstock image 1658927440 By Deliris masks in office coronavirus covid19

    White House orders federal contractors vaccinated by Dec. 8

    New COVID-19 guidance directs federal contractors and subcontractors to make sure their employees are vaccinated — the latest in a series of new vaccine requirements the White House has been rolling out in recent weeks.

  • FCW Perspectives
    remote workers (elenabsl/

    Post-pandemic IT leadership

    The rush to maximum telework did more than showcase the importance of IT -- it also forced them to rethink their own operations.

Stay Connected