Cooper urges political replacement

The next chief information officer of the Homeland Security Department should be a political appointee chosen by President Bush, said outgoing CIO Steve Cooper.

In an interview with Federal Computer Week, Cooper, whose last day at DHS is April 30, said that coming from private industry without understanding how the federal government works hurt both him and Mark Emery, the deputy CIO who went to PEC Solutions last month.

Although Cooper said he's done a significant amount of learning in the past three years, he admitted, "I still don't know what I don't know."

The former CIO of Corning Glassware said he does not know who might replace him. To help his successor and the department reach their goals, the next CIO be a political appointee, with the deputy CIO a career federal employee "who knows the government inside and out," Cooper said.

As the 2-year-old department matures, he said, DHS will need political connections with the White House and other political appointees across government to handle the pitfalls it will likely encounter.

Being a political appointee "greases the skids" and helps move things more easily, he said, adding, "When you have the support of the White House and the federal government, it’s not a bad thing."

Cooper acknowledged that a career federal employee would have support and connections cultivated through years of building relationships among agencies. Those relationships are critical to the deputy CIO, he said, who is charge of daily IT operations. But an appointee, he notes, is part of the political structure of the department and thus has those relationships built in.

For instance, that thinking went into the decision to make Rear Adm. Ronald Hewitt of the Coast Guard the acting deputy CIO for DHS, Cooper said. Hewitt is a member of the CIO Council and has strong connections with the Defense Department including the Northern Command, which oversees the defense of the United States by the military.

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