The government 'transformation queen'

HUD’s Tarrazzia Martin was one of the first 100 employees at the Department of Homeland Security.

Image from GCN: Tarrazzia Martin

HUD's Tarrazzia Martin began her government career at the IRS.

Even though the Department of Housing and Urban Development has nearly 9,000 employees at its Washington headquarters, the security officer at the building’s main entrance knows who Tarrazzia Martin is.

"She's a good lady," he said.

Martin came to HUD two years ago to serve as a senior technical adviser to the CIO and help with the department's transformation initiative. Now she is senior adviser for enterprise planning and change management in the secretary’s office.

Throughout her career, she has gravitated to some of the biggest challenges in government: She was one of the first 100 employees at the Department of Homeland Security, she joined the General Services Administration to help write the E-Government Act of 2002, and she helped integrate business services for the six biggest intelligence agencies during her tenure at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

When she was tapped for the job at HUD in August 2012, she knew it would be another challenge. But they don’t call her the "transformation queen" for nothing.  

A force for change

Jim Flyzik, president of the the Flyzik Group and a former longtime federal executive, worked with Martin while he was the Treasury Department's CIO and again when he was a senior adviser to Tom Ridge in the White House’s Office of Homeland Security, the precursor to DHS.

Martin's aggressive approach to tackling tough problems is what has made her a successful agent for transformation in government, Flyzik said.

"She saw challenges as challenges. She didn't view them as constraints," Flyzik told FCW. "Those challenges weren't deal breakers for her or walls she couldn’t break down."

Being a woman in the federal technology field added its own hurdles, Flyzik said. "She dealt with her fair share of challenges as she was working her way up," he added. "Back then, it was more male-oriented in the technology field."

Martin recalls being in meetings where she was one of only two women at a table of 20 men. "It's tough for a woman in the IT business," she said. "I don’t care what anyone tells you -- it's tough. You have to be tough to have your voice heard."

After hearing Martin talk for just a few minutes about the work she’s doing, it’s clear she prides herself on being the person others turn to when they need help transforming their agencies. And that’s good because, as most government leaders know, transformation is not easy.

"When you're working as a transformation agent, you're asking people to do things differently," Flyzik said. "That's tough because a lot of people resist change."

Called to service

Martin started her government career at an Internal Revenue Service office in Utah, where she grew up and attended college. For the IRS, she worked on simulation modeling -- a job that taught her to see all the parts of a process and how they work together.

After proving her mettle in a series of jobs at the IRS’s Utah office, Martin was asked to come to Treasury's headquarters in Washington to lead the Treasury Communications Enterprise program. She was director of infrastructure for two years, managed Treasury’s Working Capital Fund and earned the IRS Commissioner's Award for her work on the department’s enterprise architecture.

From there, she went to GSA to help write the E-Government Act of 2002. After the law was passed, she stayed on at the agency and became the architect of FirstGov.gov, which became USA.gov.

After DHS was created in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, Martin was offered the position of deputy director for infrastructure at the new agency. She moved over to DHS's Citizenship and Immigration Services and spent three years as the agency's CIO.

Emotions were running high then, Martin said. "We really tried to change the world when we were there. What we knew about the terrorists after the fact was very important to us because we realized we had all the information to have possibly prevented some things from happening."

Similarly, Martin and others soon realized that various agencies -- such as the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration and CIS -- held pieces of important information, and if they worked together, they could connect the dots and help prevent future terrorist attacks.

"That was the pivot point for me," Martin said. "We saw ourselves as a hub to try and remedy ourselves for the future. We built out a whole enterprise architecture."

After three years as CIO at CIS, Martin joined the CIA’s business transformation office and took on the job of integrating business services for the six largest intelligence agencies. She eventually moved on to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Although she cannot go into detail about her work at ODNI, she does say that she worked on the office's enterprise architecture and became passionate about its potential for improving agency operations.

"It just sung with me, and since then, that has been my mantra," she said. "It's not about 'let's focus on technology.' It’s transforming the way we do business."

The epicenter of change

Part of Martin’s latest role at HUD is reinforcing the idea that change starts with people, not technology.

"Change management has to be everybody’s job. It's not some office in the corner," she said. "We all need to recognize that change is the fundamental action that happens through people enabled by technology, as opposed to the other way around. Change can't happen in the IT shop. It has to happen at a tactical level."

Martin argues that in addition to getting to know the business side of operations, IT folks should be cross-pollinating with procurement people.

"Getting technology people out of the old IT box and having them work closer with the business and strategic planners of the organization [are] where you’ll start to see real fundamental change happen," Martin said.

Once you begin getting people to change, it's also helpful to re-examine the policies that are in place, she added.

"When you look at Clinger-Cohen from [1996], IT was very different then," Martin said. "Where it is now is another whole ball game."

Transformation within agencies requires leadership from the executive branch and at the Cabinet level, and Martin said President Barack Obama's appointment of former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to be secretary of HUD bodes well for the agency’s success.

"He's going to be a game changer, no question about it," Martin said. "He has a vision, and he's not looking to do it vertically. He’s looking horizontally across the organization. For example, homelessness is not a HUD issue, it’s a governmentwide issue."

That ability to connect the dots across agencies will be the key to making the government more effective, she added.

"That's where government can be effective, to not be stovepiped anymore, to look horizontally at the issues in our country and our communities and make [them] better," Martin said. "That's why I'm at HUD. I came here for that reason."

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