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OMB’s Burk will leave legacy of change

Richard Burk might be best known for his sharp style of dress and eloquent and impassioned speeches, but few people outside the enterprise architecture community realize what his true influence on agencies has been.

Burk, who announced his retirement Aug. 15 after more than 35 years in government, will rank with Mark Forman, Steve Kelman and others in the technology and procurement fields who have changed government.

From his pulpit as chief architect at the Office of Management and Budget, Burk worked diligently and enthusiastically to help agencies achieve their missions by adopting enterprise architecture.

Under his guidance, OMB pushed agencies to evolve their enterprise architectures from what many considered software for technology geeks to a methodology for planning, investing and implementing business systems. The impact on budgets and mission-critical systems becomes clearer each year.

Burk often drew on his 29 years of experience at the Housing and Urban Development Department to present real-life examples of how enterprise architecture can help agencies achieve mission goals.

Burk’s vision, as he described it, was to bring enterprise architecture out of the “information technology ghetto” and into mission-critical areas. He started agencies down that path with a number of initiatives, including the Federal Transition Framework and last year’s mandate that agencies create segment architectures, which focus on a particular business line and require the business owner’s approval.

Burk said he is leaving government because he is ready for a change. He plans to land somewhere in industry and continue working with agencies on enterprise architecture.

OMB could have a hard time replacing him for numerous reasons, including the fact that the chief architect has no staff or funding, but a lot of responsibility and expectations.

Although agencies’ use of enterprise architecture is far from perfect or complete, Burk has set the slow-moving government on a steady course.


#2: Visionary 2.0

Esther Dyson has done something most people wouldn’t think of doing. Dyson’s agreed to publish her medical records on the Internet, along with her answers to a lengthy medical questionnaire and her personal genome sequence. Dyson, whose Release 1.0 newsletter made her an influential figure in the information technology community in the 1990s, has moved on to new adventures. One is the Personal Genome Project directed by Harvard University geneticist George Church. Dyson’s unembarrassed decision to give up her privacy rights for the sake of genetic research is, well, so like Esther Dyson.

#3: A day in court for the pay system?

The Bush administration’s plans to overhaul the pay and benefits system at the Defense Department could get a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court if the American Federation of Government Employees has its way. Last week, the union and its allies appealed a decision by a U.S. Court of Appeals, which overturned a lower court ruling that blocked the controversial National Security Personnel System.

#4: Customs: LAX, we have a problem

When the Customs and Border Protection agency’s computer system broke down at Los Angeles International Airport Aug. 11, it prevented government employees from screening arriving passengers for security threats, thereby stranding some 17,000 international passengers in airplanes on the ground. According to the Los Angeles Times, the problem was a malfunctioning network interface card on a single desktop PC. That card prevented the computer from connecting to a local-area network, creating a cascading data overflow that eventually brought the system to a halt.

#5: Flying cars

NASA awarded cash prizes last week to winners of its Personal Air Vehicle competition. The $250,000 was divided among individuals with innovative ideas for reducing noise, improving handling, and achieving short takeoffs and higher speeds for small aircraft. NASA officials are looking for breakthrough innovations in personal aircraft technology that will propel the agency toward its Vision for Space Exploration. See you on the moon!


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