For Priscilla Guthrie, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were all the motivation she needed
Twenty-nine years and 10 months. The number rolls off Priscilla Guthrie's tongue with amazing precision, so much so that one almost waits for the number of days, minutes and seconds. The number, which represents her tenure at TRW Inc., also reflects a significant sacrifice.
Guthrie, who quietly took over as the Defense Department's deputy chief information officer in December 2001, had turned the job down just six months earlier. She told John Stenbit, assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence and the DOD CIO, that her early departure would cost her big bucks for her retirement.
But the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 changed everything. Guthrie called Stenbit and told him, "If you need anything, I'm yours."
On Nov. 28, Stenbit returned her call and asked her to join his team. The following day, Guthrie put her Detroit home on the market. One day later, she threw some belongings in her car and drove to Washington, D.C. On Dec. 1, after having signed a contract on a house that weekend, she showed up for work at the Pentagon.
Stenbit "promised me I could go back [to Detroit] and pack. I haven't been back in 60-some days," Guthrie said during an interview at her Pentagon office.
Guthrie's background contrasts with that of her predecessor, Paul Brubaker, who left the deputy CIO job in March 2001. While Brubaker earned a reputation as a driving force behind the Clinger-Cohen Act, Guthrie is little known in government information technology circles. And although she worked as a defense and intelligence contractor early in her TRW career, most recently she focused on the automotive industry as vice president of e-business.
Guthrie acknowledges that she felt overwhelmed by the learning curve she faced when she arrived, but she has already garnered respect from career DOD officials, insiders say. And she has the advantage of having worked for years with Stenbit, who also hailed from TRW, and therefore understands his goal of creating a network-centric DOD.
"We have solved many tough problems together, and I look forward to her help in creating the opportunity for the department to execute the most important transformation into a network- centric organization," Stenbit said. "The IT programs and policies of the DOD are crucial to its operations, and Priscilla's expertise will enable us to move forward rapidly."
"John reminds me on an every-few-days basis that my focus is to achieve, collectively, net-centric," Guthrie said. "It wasn't drive toward or become net-centric. It was achieve net-centric, so it is very, very focused."
She stresses that network-centric warfare is critical, but the overall goal is to move the entire organization to be network-centric.
That goal involves a significant philosophical shift — from a system that was focused on disseminating data to a system that makes data available on networks so people have access to the information they need.
"You have to be able to trust the network and trust my data and trust me as a source, but it enables you to pull it from wherever you are, whenever you want it, and to use it for whatever you need to use it for," Guthrie said.
There are policy decisions that go along with this shift, such as questions about who has access to what data. Therefore, interoperability, driven by DOD's Global Information Grid architecture, becomes critical to making the data usable.
Guthrie said she is still getting used to the government sector, where decisions are based on clear-cut measurements rather than the bottom line.
The Priscilla Guthrie file
Position: Deputy assistant secretary of Defense and deputy chief information officer at the Defense Department.
Previous experience: Most recently served as vice president of e-business for TRW Inc., where she reported to the chairman and chief executive officer and was responsible for developing and directing the company's global e-business strategy. Prior to that, Guthrie was vice president and general manager of global enterprise solutions for the TRW Systems and Information Technology Group.
Education: Guthrie earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Pennsylvania State University and a master's degree in business administration from Marymount University.
Quote: "This is the greatest thing to ever happen to me. I love it. I have a house now with no furniture. I have an air mattress. I have one fork, one spoon, one plate. And it kind of doesn't matter. There is this absolute requirement I feel to help."
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