Wanted: Tech-savvy leadership in government

Senior leaders making political or budget decisions cannot afford to be ignorant about technology, says retired Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen.

Allen, who was designated the national incident commander of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and directed the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, spoke at the GovSec conference March 30 on the topic of leading during times of crisis and change. The conference is sponsored by Federal Computer Week's parent company, 1105 Media.

We should “put a premium on leaders in this country understanding technology,” Allen said, adding that the knowledge is essential when people are involved in the budget and acquisition processes.


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Allen was an early adopter of social media, and he said leaders should consider the value of crowdsourcing sites such as Twitter and Facebook. He called ever-increasing technological advances the “sociological equivalent to climate change” and said the government has three options for dealing with such advances: suffer, adapt or manage.

Leaders must create an organizational structure that optimizes available technology while acknowledging the importance of transparency and public accountability, he added.

When the oil spill happened last year, Allen said he created a common operating picture and kept the public informed via a geographic information system. People were able to extract data via the Web.

Federal leaders should recognize public participation in the form of nongovernmental organizations, faith-based organizations and the private sector. “We won’t have another major event in this country without public participation,” Allen said.

If the government turns away outside groups during a crisis, it will have even more questions to answer from the public, he added.

Ultimately, no agency is capable of solving today’s complex problems on its own, which means the next generation of leaders must be trained to reach across and beyond the government to create diverse partnerships, Allen said.

“You can’t do that by protecting your turf, your budget base and within your own operating procedures,” he said. You must "bring diverse folks together and unify that effort across government. This is really, really hard work.”

About the Author

Alyah Khan is a staff writer covering IT policy.

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