Cooper seeks security buy-in

Steve Cooper joined the Office of Homeland Security in March because he was looking for a way to make a difference

Even he admits that it sounds trite, but Steve Cooper joined the Office of Homeland Security in March because he was looking for a way to make a difference.

On Sept. 11, Cooper, who is special assistant to the president, senior director of information integration and chief information officer at the Homeland Security Office, was at a CIO conference held on a ship in the New York City harbor. Watching the World Trade Center towers fall, it "looked like the whole city was on fire," he recalled. When President Bush issued the executive order creating the Office of Homeland Security in October, Cooper read it carefully, although as the CIO at Corning Inc., he had little or nothing to do with what was happening in Washington, D.C.

"It became clear to myself, and I suspect to people with my background who would read the executive order, that the critical success factor in what basically lay ahead for the office was the ability to share information," he said.

Unsure whether the Bush administration had focused on that issue yet, he called Rep. Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.), his congressman, who brought him to speak with Tom Ridge, director of the Homeland Security Office. "And the outcome of those discussions is obvious — I'm here," Cooper said.

He calls himself a "gadget guy" and a "people person," a combination that could be the key to his success as the person in charge of coordinating the information technology aspect of homeland security.

"If you came to my house, you'd find every gadget related to technology there because I'm lazy. If I can use technology to get work done, so much the better, because then I have more time to go spend with people," he said.

In his first two months on the job, he has met with and talked to hundreds of people involved with the government. His schedule for the next two months will be just as full, particularly since his only assistant, Jim Flyzik, is still undergoing the White House clearance process to move to the Office of Homeland Security from his position as CIO of the Treasury Department.

On April 29 and 30, Cooper and Flyzik met with the CIO Council to discuss ways for agencies to collaborate and share information for the country's homeland security mission.

The CIO Council has already scheduled a follow-up meeting to focus entirely on those issues, Cooper said, "not because Jim and I are out running around, bonking people on the head with baseball bats saying 'Hey, wake up, you've got to do this,' but rather because people are genuinely interested and they're asking us, 'What do we do and how do we do this?'"

State and local CIOs are very interested in meeting with Cooper to talk about integration and communication issues, and are looking forward "semi-impatiently" to the national strategy that the Office of Homeland Security will send to the president at the end of June, said Bob Feingold, Colorado's CIO, speaking May 8 at the Government CIO Summit in Broomfield, Colo.

Cooper believes that the most important message in his discussions with officials in federal, state and local governments and the private sector is that he does not have all the answers.

"I've got 50-some-odd colleagues in the federal CIO Council, plus their teams, and you've got hundreds of people who collectively have the answers," he said. "I'm not worried that I have to have all the answers. If I can ask all the right questions, collectively we'll get the right answers."

Cooper's approach to working with agencies is the right one to take, said Rosanne Hynes, IT adviser to the Defense Department's Homeland Security Task Force. The government must identify all IT programs related to homeland security to ensure that the right people are running the right programs and that no redundancies or gaps exist, she said.

***

Steve Cooper: Past and present

Previous experience: Most recently, Cooper served as chief information officer of corporate staffs and executive director of strategic information delivery at Corning Inc. He has also served as director of information technology for Eli Lilly and Co. and held senior-level technical and management positions with Computer Sciences Corp., CACI International Inc and others.

Looking to the future: Cooper has several immediate goals for IT at the Office of Homeland Security, including:

* Developing an internal mission and set of objectives so officials can share their vision with government and the private sector.

* Working with agencies to identify IT programs that meet the Bush administration's top homeland security priorities: supporting first responders, tightening border security and fighting bioterrorism. Agencies have already compiled about 90 percent of this inventory, Cooper said.

* Creating new programs and working with managers to address any concerns that arise when programs must be combined to avoid duplication.

NEXT STORY: DOD aims to seed workforce

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