DISA's Croom to retire

Lt. Gen. Charles Croom will retire in July as director of the Defense Information Systems Agency and commander of the Joint Task Force for Global Network Operations, DISA officials announced March 11. Navy Rear Adm. Elizabeth Hight, DISA’s current vice director, has been nominated to succeed Croom.

Croom has been director of DISA since July 2005. He has sought to reinvent the agency’s procurement strategy and lead it through a pending relocation from Arlington, Va., to Fort Meade, Md., as directed by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC).

In an interview with Defense Systems, retired Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, a former Army chief information officer and now vice president of global government solutions at Cisco Systems, said, “Gen. Croom was very good at partnering. Even if it meant giving something up at DISA, he would do it.”

Croom called his approach to changing DISA’s business processes the ABC strategy — for “adopt before buy, buy before create.” The philosophy is reflected in DISA’s adoption of the technology in the Army Knowledge Online Web portal for the Defense Knowledge Online (DKO) portal and in identifying service-oriented architecture projects in the Defense Department that could serve as models for DISA’s Network-Enabled Command and Control project.

“He set the standard with DKO and DKO [Secret IP Router],” Boutelle said. “I do have a concern about whether that will continue on because it takes a lot of energy.”  Boutelle also said he felt Hight was a good choice to succeed Croom. “Hopefully, she will continue the difficult battle on ABC. She’s been at DISA long enough to understand" the importance of that approach.

Boutelle said Croom’s leadership has been crucial to moving DISA toward a model more in line with the private sector. He added that Croom’s engineering credentials and understanding of technology gave him credibility in turf battles at DISA. “You don’t want to go nose to nose with Charlie Croom,” Boutelle said. “He understands this stuff on an engineering level. But he also is wise enough not to try to impose that on his people and all their decisions.”

Croom talked briefly about leadership challenges at DISA after speaking today at AFCEA International’s Information-Sharing Conference in Washington. “The senior leaders have the vision, and the kids see the vision and wonder why we’re not getting there faster,” he said. However, some of the agency’s midlevel employees have “grown up with things a certain way,” he added. “Accepting change is very hard for us.”

Meanwhile, Croom's successor must deal with the agency's move to Maryland. DISA officials signed a contract for construction of the agency’s new home at the end of February. DISA will break ground on the site April 16 and begin relocating to the new facility in October 2010.

“BRAC presents a great leadership challenge,” Croom said. “Seventy percent of our workforce resides in Virginia.” With the agency’s workload increasing, “we’re doing everything we can to get those people to move.”

Croom said he is trying to establish teleworking at DISA to help accommodate employees adversely affected by the move. “If I allow them to work via telework three days a week, it might convince them to stay. The problem there is management and supervision. We need to focus on the relationship between supervisors and [employees]. We have to get people to measure productivity and not attendance.”

About the Author

Sean Gallagher is senior contributing editor for Defense Systems.


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