Remembering government IT giants

Columnist Alan Balutis reflects on the important contributions that the late Lynn McNulty and Mark Zelinger made to the federal IT community.

Alan Balutis is senior director and distinguished fellow at Cisco Systems' Internet Business Solutions Group.

It is indeed hell to get old. A trip out of town no longer raises Secret Service-like urges. Instead, it offers a chance to be “wild” in other ways — a chance to salt one’s food and have bacon with breakfast. Cocktail banter seems dominated by talk of ailing prostates or roughage-filled diets. But the worst part is seeing old friends and colleagues pass away. In one week in June, I mourned the deaths of two excellent members of our community: Lynn McNulty and Mark Zelinger.

Lynn spent 30-plus years in public service — at the CIA, the State Department, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Commerce Department, where I had the chance to work with him. Federal Computer Week’s obituary describes him as “an early champion of information security in the government.” That is true but hardly begins to describe his impact as a pioneer and visionary.

It’s difficult today to recall a time not so long ago when security hardly registered as a concern or priority. But look back at the annual surveys done by Gartner, Forrester Research, the Association for Federal Information Resources Management and others and see when “IT security” made it onto the top 10 list. It made it because of the ongoing efforts of people like Lynn McNulty, who educated, tutored and lectured patiently for years on the importance of cybersecurity. And when many didn’t listen, Lynn would patiently return to educate and tutor again. In 2008, his contributions were recognized with his induction into the Information Systems Security Association’s Hall of Fame.

I ran into Lynn a few months ago at the City Club in downtown D.C. at a meeting of (ISC)2, a nonprofit cybersecurity training organization. Lynn was a board member and director of government affairs. He looked thin and weak, clearly the result of the treatments for the lymphoma that took his life. Sadly, I know that look all too well from my own past battles. We talked briefly and shook hands. I wished him well in his treatments. Now I have only the memories of the times he would come to my Commerce office on 14th Street, spread out some charts and start his lesson. “Look at the increase in security incidents, Alan….”

Mark was also taken by cancer. If Lynn was the university professor, Mark was the fullback. Lynn was the educator; Mark was the blunt object. Mark was always in industry, and I met him when he was a vice president at GTSI and served with him on the board of the D.C. Chapter of AFCEA International. I made the mistake once of telling Mark the old joke that any company that had “Group” or “Associates” in its name usually had neither. When he founded his sales and business development firm, ZAI Solutions (short for Zelinger Associates Inc.), he began every conversation thereafter with “I have four people,” “I have six associates,” “We’re up to eight.” He made me rue the day I tried to be funny.

I’ll remember our service on the AFCEA board of directors the best. Mark’s obituary noted that “he was particularly passionate about raising funds for...scholarships.” And he was passionate, tireless, unrelenting. Every conversation came back to that topic as he reminded members that that was our core mission and asked how what was being proposed contributed to it. What a pain! What a very good man!

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