Visionaries and leaders get their due

2006 GCN honorees put good ideas to work

More than 1,000 IT leaders from government and industry gathered last night in Washington for the annual GCN Awards Gala. The event honored 10 agency projects that demonstrated innovation and excellence, as well as this year’s government and industry executives of the year, and Hall of Fame inductees. Below are some of the comments from the evening’s individual honorees.

Civilian Executive of the Year

Public Printer Bruce James, honored as Civilian Executive of the Year, talked about the challenges of modernizing operations at the Government Printing Office. When he was tapped in 2002 to head the agency, he knew it had fallen on hard times and that he had a tough job ahead. “The technology in many ways was obsolete, the model wasn’t working anymore to keep Americans informed, and I thought it was verging on being perhaps hopeless,” he said.

But four years later, GPO is transformed, James told the audience. “And this isn’t a story of what I’ve done,” he said. “It really is a story of the courage of the men and women of GPO, the [GS] 14s and 15s and the union leaders who were willing to risk their livelihood and their jobs to prove that we could bring GPO into modern times. They basically believed that we could do it.”

Working together, he said, “I think we have restored GPO to the leadership that you as taxpayers expect [and] I think we have positioned GPO to function as a partner for the 155 other agencies that we serve every day.”

He concluded: “It’s a remarkable story. But truly this is an honor for the men and women of GPO.”

Defense Executive of the Year

Although temperatures can reach upwards of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, causing frequent radio meltdowns, and electromagnetic spectrum is in short supply, Army Brig. Gen. Susan Lawrence keeps coming back to the Iraqi region. Lawrence, the director of command, control, communications and computers for the U.S. Central Command, has been to the area about a half dozen times since Operation Iraqi Freedom first began.

Lawrence is no glutton for punishment. She's a soldier's general and she comes back to ensure her troops have optimal communications when and where they need it. She comes back as a way to stay connected to the boots on the ground.

Honored as DOD Executive of the Year, Lawrence appeared visibly moved as an audience of nearly 1,200 of her peers across industry and in the services and other federal agencies gave her a thunderous standing ovation in appreciation of the work that she is doing. She was introduced by Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, Army CIO, and Lawrence accepted the award via live video hookup from Qatar.

But Lawrence said she couldn't take credit alone.

With the help of industry partners, Lawrence said the communications network in Qatar has been extended from the United States to the Horn of Africa to the Middle East to the former Soviet Union.

"We are extending the network-centric enterprise," Lawrence said.

When asked by Tom Temin, executive vice president of editorial for PostNewsweek Tech Media, how she is handling the spectrum challenges, Lawrence credited industry with helping to improve bandwidth across the battlefield.

"We were able to increase our bandwidth into the theater," Lawrence said. "In 2007, we will extend four times the amount that's there today to get the right data to the warfighter in the right format."

Industry Executive of the Year

Accepting the Industry Executive of Year with self-effacing aplomb, Stephen Rohleder, chief operating officer of Accenture, said, “My aspiration is to be the person that my dog thinks I am.”

“The recognition here is not about me,” said Rohleder, who has spent 26 years in several capacities with Accenture. “It is about the clients who invite us along on their journey to higher performance. It’s about the teams [that] serve our government clients every single day.”

He talked about the evolving challenges that agencies and contractors often face together. “All you have to do is pick up the newspaper and see the demands governments face today. Beyond the headlines, governments, like businesses, are constantly under pressure to improve service quality, drive down costs, and stay ahead of the innovation curve,” he said.

“Yet even as the environment has become more challenging, we have seen all of our government clients and others become more and more sophisticated. They are raising the bar on innovation—in the projects they undertake, and in the services they provide for citizens. Governments are using a range of technology from text messaging applications to kiosks to interactive voice response to provide improved services in ways that better help citizens and reduce costs.”

Hall of Fame

Mark Forman, known as a visionary in the government IT community, has always been passionate about improving how government works. Last night, as the former Office of Management and Budget administrator for e-government and IT was inducted into the GCN Hall of Fame, he revealed some lessons learned from his 26 years in the government IT community to ensure that the passion for public service remains strong and government continues to transform.

Forman urged the audience to focus on positive incentives for meeting goals and performance measures. "[I]n the 1980s, in the 1990s, and even as little as three years ago, I saw, repeatedly, good people making irrational decisions. Mind you, if you asked them how they came to this decision, you would get a very rational explanation that made perfect sense in their own environments, but one that made no sense anywhere else. Why? People act in line with their incentives and the incentives direct people to the wrong results. Government reformers often put themselves at great risk and have to decide whether to buck the system by trying to make things better."

Forman said for lasting change to occur, there needs to be positive rewards.
He also said more transparency is key to improving government, highlighting the federal database spending bill recently signed into law.

Forman encouraged audience members to listen to their critics, leverage teamwork, share successes with as many people as possible, set goals and understand the relationship between resources and results, and realize that major reforms come from outside the system. Finally, he said no matter how difficult the problem is, apply the KISS method—keep it simple stupid.

"Government reform is about government employees trying to do the right thing in a system chockfull of incentives stacked against them," Forman said. "Over the next few years, I see two major opportunities for government reform that may affect this environment"—the spending database bill and the ability to clarify roles, missions and responsibilities of government in the 21st century.

Hall of Fame

The emotional heart of the evening came at the end, in the last award, as Vice Adm. Arthur K. Cebrowski was posthumously inducted into the GCN Hall of Fame.

One of his daughters, Kristy Niro, accepting the honor on his behalf, choked back tears as she delivered a poignant eulogy to her father.

Cebrowski, who pioneered and championed the concept of network-centric warfare, and after retiring from the Navy was named by Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld as the first—and, it turns out, only—head of the Office of Force Transformation, truly was a visionary, Niro said.

While it is said that prophets are not honored in their own countries, Niro said, "If Arthur Cebrowski was a prophet in his own land, he was the most honored man I knew."
She urged the audience to continue Cebrowski's work.

"He believed in young people and young ideas," Niro said.

More on this topic
GCN 2006 Awards
2006 GCN Gala photo gallery

GCN Executives of the year

The PostNewsweek Tech Media Hall of Fame

2006 GCN Awards print issue index


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