Homeland Security CIO to depart

Steve Cooper, the first chief information officer at the Homeland Security Department, has decided to step down to spend more time with his family, according to government sources.

Cooper submitted his resignation on April 4 and he plans to leave sometime this month, according to DHS spokeswoman Valerie Smith.

"As CIO, Steve’s strategic vision and tireless efforts over the last two years have been crucial in consolidating multiple information technology systems to allow DHS to function as one department,” Smith said.

Cooper, former CIO at Corning Glassware Co. in Corning, N.Y., has been with DHS since its creation in March 2003. Over the past two and a half years, he focused on creating an enterprisewide infrastructure to help merge the 22 separate federal agencies banded together in the new department. His other work includes streamlining operations and encouraging information sharing among the department's agencies and state and local governments.

"It's regrettable because he has really put his life and blood into this," said Tom Ragland, who worked under Cooper as director of operations for the White House's fledgling Office of Homeland Security in 2001.

Cooper had the analytical skills to build a new, enterprisewide infrastructure out of the 22 agencies that came together in DHS, Ragland said. Cooper also had the charisma to persuade and reassure 22 CIOs that he would respect their individual missions while crafting an overall vision for the department, Ragland said.

Cooper witnessed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks from a conference on a ship circling Manhattan and watched as the towers of the World Trade Center tumbled.

In late 2004, Cooper outlined the department's information technology priorities for 2005 and said that information sharing and consolidation of the DHS mission would help it become one department. He also discussed the importance of making the enterprise architecture work seamlessly.

But there were plenty of problems. The department's inspector general issued a series of reports criticizing the department and its IT systems.

A year ago, the inspector general said DHS had made "significant progress" with its management challenges, and added that planned improvements in grants and financial management, border protection, intelligence efforts, and technology upgrades would take five to seven years to implement.

Cooper accomplished a great deal without the authority or staff he really needed, said James Carafano, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "If someone went out to get a cup of coffee, no one was there to answer the phones," he said. In a December 2004 report, Carafano suggested giving the Homeland Security CIO position more power to meet its responsibilities.

In 2004, the department received an F for poor compliance with Federal Information Security Management Act requirements, as less than 34 percent of the department's applications and systems were accredited and certified. Cooper said he knew the department would not get 100 percent of the systems certified and accredited, but the purpose was to make IT security "part and parcel of everything the IT function did. Get it on people's minds."

"Let's move from 34 percent to something a lot more than that," he said. "Well, in '04, we actually completed, disseminated and published a robust IT security program. We got handbooks out to all of the information security managers. We provided security training for the employees of the department. We moved from 34 percent to 68 percent accreditation. Now I defy anybody to tell me that's not progress, that that's not tangible, significant value added to the security of this department and to the mission of the [DHS]. And we do have goals in '05 to move to 85 percent," Cooper said.

The CIO job at DHS is one of the hardest of its kind to fill, Carafano said. The unrelenting pressure, long hours, and diversity of stakeholders within and outside the department make the position incredibly challenging, he said.

Although there has been no official word on who would replace Cooper, some sources mentioned Daniel Matthews, the chief information officer at the Department of Transportation, as a possible successor.


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