Jay Anania | State finds common ground in IT
Interview with Jay Anania, acting CIO of the State Department
When Jay Anania talks about the needs of U.S. embassies and consulates around the globe, he can draw on a lot of personal experience. His career with the State Department’s Foreign Service spans 20 years and four continents, leading to his appointment in March as the department’s acting CIO. Nor is his current mission to integrate systems anything new to him.
Anania’s foreign service began in Tijuana, Mexico, and has included posts in the Jordanian capital of Amman, Havana, the United Arab Emirates’ capital of Abu Dhabi, Berlin and, from 1999 to 2002, Hong Kong, where he was management officer for the U.S. Embassy Office. He received the Secretary’s Innovation in the Use of Technology Award for his work in Hong Kong.
In 2002, he was named director of State’s Office of Management Policy, and played a key role in the department’s efforts to meet the goals of the President’s Management Agenda. In 2003, he established the Office of Rightsizing in U.S. Government Overseas Presence.
Anania, who joined the Foreign Service in 1985, holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Keynon College and a master’s in business administration from North Carolina University.
GCN senior writer Patience Wait interviewed him recently.GCN: Just about all government departments are involved in some kind of relief efforts related to Hurricane Katrina. What are some of the measures you’re taking at the State Department?
Anania: We’re coordinating the foreign assistance... . In addition, a lot of foreign countries had a lot of diplomatic facilities in New Orleans and we’re helping them find [new locations]. And there are a lot of foreign nationals in New Orleans, so we’re helping coordinate the diplomatic effort to reach out to them.
We have a passport office in New Orleans, which contained passport applications for many thousands of Americans who want to travel. ... We managed to pull out all the applications, took out all the boxes of paperwork [and] got the computer servers as well. We’re now processing those from our facility in South Carolina. We’re also part of the larger federal effort. We have deployed a communications center to Baton Rouge, “State South,” [which] we’re coordinating with FEMA.
As a sideline, when we first started deploying, we put people at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. Some of the equipment that we had was of use to the Air Force, so we actually left behind a communications center that’s allowing them to do secure communications.
The idea of working in disaster situations is nothing new for us. We did it after the tsunami. We did use IT quite extensively, to enable collaboration, not just with agencies but with private relief agencies, via the Internet.GCN: What is the status of the State Messaging and Archive Retrieval Toolset?
Anania: This is an extremely important effort that will replace our legacy telegram system used for command, control and communication with an e-mail-based system that will also capture the record of e-mails in our archives and open the archives up to our users to share information and promote knowledge management. The vision is that we’d also have additional functionalities [such as] collaboration software.
The vision is as vibrant as it ever was, but unfortunately the implementation is a little behind. [Northrop Grumman, the contractor, has] developed a prototype that’s very successful with a small number of users, but we don’t want to release anything that isn’t everything our users need.
We have a concept, Foreign Affairs Virtual Environment. The idea would be, the vision statement is: Any U.S. government employee could access all appropriate information, no matter where it’s held, [and] access it from any U.S. government computer. For instance, if we had a State Department employee on detail to the Pentagon, he could get on a DOD computer and come back to State Department [networks].
This is particularly important to the overseas environment. An embassy is kind of a microcosm of the government, with 20, 30, 40 agencies sharing space, all with their own systems. We could streamline the infrastructure tremendously, particularly in an overseas environment.GCN: Where do things stand with State’s Global Financial Management System?
Anania: This is a project managed by our Bureau of Resource Management. The [project] is a partnership between State and the Agency for International Development, and we’re working steadily towards it.
Both agencies will converge in Charleston, S.C., on a technical infrastructure, using the same software. We’ll be able to provide all the technical support from a single platform. It’s a big benefit to us, both agencies, because if we hadn’t done this we would have each developed our own system. This is e-government in action.
This is a multifaceted program. There’s the President’s Management Agenda, which includes rightsizing. ... By rightsizing the overseas presence we’ve brought back not only the hardware but the processes, the work. This is going to be global, Web-based, [which] means we don’t have to have quite so many resources working on this. They can take on higher-value assignments. It also helps security. We have people doing things in dangerous locations, and we’d rather have [fewer people at risk].GCN: Do you have some idea of how to measure the benefits? What are the metrics?
Anania: It’s certainly tens of millions of dollars in terms of the joint financial management system.
We have a joint strategic plan, which was a first when it was issued a few years ago [and which] led to the creation of the Joint Management Council. ... We have been making great progress in terms of cooperation in overseas environments. For in- stance, we are considering ways we can combine our telecommunications networks, what we can look to do in terms of FAVE combining networks. At the Washington level we’ve already combined the networks ... that’s going extremely well.GCN: I know you’ve had a pilot program for using thin clients. How has that gone?
Anania: When you’re talking about systems at the most sensitive posts, we don’t necessarily want to have full PCs deployed at every office. There’s the cost factor, and they’re expensive to maintain, especially when you have to factor in upgrades and patches. ... Then there’s security, containing all the information on your servers. They can project out to the user, but when they turn off the thin client, the servers are in a secure location.
It’s also related to our mobile computing program, especially to support telework. We use technology that allows people to log in securely from their home computer. ... We explicitly targeted teleworking, and it’s working out well for that [but] it has other applicability, especially since diplomats tend to travel.
We have a program called GITM—Global Information Technology Modernization. It’s the program we use to refresh our infrastructure every four years. We’re simply going to be instituting thin clients, both domestically and overseas, substituting thin clients instead of [new PCs]. There are lots of implications, especially training. We expect to move on that fairly quickly, in next fiscal year we’re expecting to deploy.
Another thing about thin client, it also facilitates rightsizing because you can have a single office supporting multiple locations. ... [Staff] in an embassy can support a consulate, for instance, or even have an overseas presence.GCN: What about the availability of bandwidth, especially in some of the overseas posts?
Anania: We’ve dramatically improved our global network, both in reliability and latency, [but] it is dependent on local infrastructure.
One of the things we’ve done is to roll out a virtual private network program. ... Before, we might have gotten very expensive dedicated circuits. If we’d maintained the old model of dedicated circuits, we couldn’t have done it.GCN: While we’ve talked about some pretty-high-profile programs, what is important to you—what are you spending time on that we haven’t talked about?
Anania: I think the one thing we haven’t talked about is knowledge management, which is a difficult concept. It requires a change of approach for a lot of people, myself included. It will tap the resources we have in ways we haven’t before. Our technology until today hasn’t changed the way we do our work; it’s helped us do our work. ... That’s really what we need to focus a lot more on.
There needs to be an IT underpinning to all this. ... [For instance] with FAVE, if you don’t reliably have a way to link different agencies together, it can’t be done. That’s a huge goal for us, for the new undersecretary for management, Henrietta Fore, my new boss. It’s one of her priorities.