A true public servant

Ed Meagher appreciates his good fortune and believes in giving something back to the public. As deputy chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Meagher has a reputation for being sensitive to properly serving his agency's customers — in this case, military veterans. As a public servant, he is known for his energy and largesse in the workplace and community.

"I am not embarrassed about any part of my life," Meagher said.

On Friday nights, you can find Meagher at Fran O'Brien's Stadium Steakhouse in Washington, D.C. He is one of the organizers of a weekly event for soldiers who were severely wounded in Iraq. He has helped raise money for the event to assist soldiers in getting reacclimated to society as they recover at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Md.

"This is not about me," Meagher said. "This is about the guys who find themselves in very strange circumstances and how we begin the process of saying, 'It's going to be fine.' "

In addition to helping wounded soldiers, Meagher also volunteers with the Special Olympics. Whenever someone is in need, he is willing to jump in and help, his friends say. Several years ago, he planned to return to Vietnam, where he had been stationed during the war. He wanted to help find, defuse and destroy remaining land mines. At the last minute, an adverse reaction to a series of shots forced him to cancel the trip. Although he cannot travel to Vietnam, he supports a program to plant trees. The program is part of a movement to transform Vietnam's legacy of war into peace.

"It is typical Ed," said Richard Burk, chief architect for information and technology at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and soon to be the federal government's chief architect. He has known Meagher since college. "He really believes and lives the fact that there's a rent to pay for being here in this wonderful country, and he's one of the guys who doesn't have a problem stepping up to the plate to pay for it."

Meagher has a history of public service. After a military career that included time as an air traffic controller, he became an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration. He was one of thousands fired by President Reagan for going on strike in 1981.

After losing his FAA job, Meagher, who had a wife and children to care for and a mortgage to pay, became an entry-level employee at an IBM time-sharing company. "I fed the computer, and I picked up the output and delivered it," he said. "It doesn't get more entry-level than that."

He was determined to make the most of every situation, which motivated him as he sought progressively more challenging jobs. He became a junior systems programmer in the IBM mainframe shop, and then a senior communications systems programmer. He was in the right place at the right time when dial-up modem communications took off.

Meagher seized the opportunity. "There weren't any great experts, so I made myself one," he said. Throughout his life, he consistently maximizes new opportunities, according to his friends.

"Service is probably the main thing that has made Ed tick most of his life," said George Molaski, former CIO at the Transportation Department and now a private consultant. As college friends and fraternity brothers, Molaski, Burk and Meagher were known as the "Three Amigos."

Meagher "is so disarming in terms of his personality," Burk said. "He sounds like a regular Joe, constantly keeping things at a simple level. But he's a very bright, very thoughtful person. He thinks things through and will capture the nut of them very quickly."

Nothing stops Meagher from getting up in the morning and doing his best job at the office, where there is always much to do.

As VA officials streamline and modernize their systems, Meagher knows that slowdowns affect the department's customers.

"We need to move faster to provide more efficient services to the veteran," he said. "We have a tremendous job ahead of us. There have been 49 million who have served since 1776; 26 million of them are alive today."

Many of the systems for delivering services are poorly integrated and inefficient. For the past four years, VA officials have been rebuilding the agency's infrastructure, imposing program management and putting capital investments in place, Meagher said.

"We've paid the price, rebuilt [telecommunications], spent hundreds of millions [of dollars] to secure the environment, retrained the program managing staff, and spent time and effort building a senior management team," he said.

But plenty of work remains for VA officials, he said. "It is an opportunity-rich environment," Meagher said. "That's what gets me up every morning."

And everyone who works with Meagher knows it, including his boss, Robert McFarland, the VA's CIO.

"He's been a really good business partner," McFarland said. "He's a high-energy guy. Ed is not afraid to share his opinion with you — not afraid to step up and speak out."

The Ed Meagher file

Title: Deputy chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Family: Meagher and his wife, Toni, recently celebrated their 30th anniversary with a trip to Italy. They have three children, including a daughter who teaches in the District of Columbia public school system, a daughter who works for the Discovery Channel in Silver Spring, Md., and a son in college.

Education: Attended the University of Dayton.

Age: 58.

Work history: He spent 11 years as an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration. He received his information technology education during stints at PRC, Capital Systems, AMS and other companies.

Hobbies: Reading.

Latest books read: "Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths" by Bruce Feiler and "The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory" by Brian Greene.

Quote: "The VA has the best mission in government, and every single person in the VA knows and understands that mission."


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