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FCW : March 30, 2016
March 30, 2016 FCW.COM 17 1 You don’t know nearly enough about your agency Several CIOs told FCW that the core technology and management chal- lenges at a federal agency are not so different from those at any big organization. Wrapping one’s head around an agency’s mission and culture, on the other hand, is a job in itself. “You’ve got to learn your own agency,” Commerce Department CIO Steve Cooper said. “That’s far and away the biggest thing.” NASA CIO Renee Wynn, who served for a time as acting CIO at the Environmental Protection Agency before moving to her current post, said, “A day didn’t go by at EPA and certainly not at NASA where I didn’t learn something new about the agency’s mission and how IT is used to support it. In one day at NASA, I went from discussing quantum phys- ics — well, I didn’t discuss, I just listened — to the implementation of [the Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation program].” Wynn, who joined the space agen- cy last July, said she is still spending personal time “reading about NASA’s mission so that I can follow the myriad of conversations.” David Shive, who has been the General Services Administration’s CIO for about a year, said it is crucial for a would-be CIO to understand “the volume and tenor of internal stakeholder influences” and how the agency’s culture will shape “your day-to-day delivery of IT operations and overarching strategic thought.” “Ask yourself: Have you assessed the politics and structure of the business units of the agency you will support?” Shive said. “Do you know their business well enough to proper- ly support them? Can you effectively speak their language and convey convincing technology solutions?” Lt. Gen. William Bender, the Air Force’s CIO, put it another way: CIOs must deeply understand the mission because their work is an integral part of it. “Air Force information sys- tems are an overly complex layering of networks upon networks with overlapping and duplicative applications, operat- ed in a decentralized manner by different [components] following different policies,” he said. A CIO needs to know enough to truly solve problems and not just service all those requests, Bender added. “It has become increasingly clear to me the Air Force must begin to manage IT as a warfight- ing support function,” he said. No matter how much one prepares, Wynn warned, “you are going to make some mistakes [as you learn]. Apologize, fix it, and have a good laugh” — and then don’t repeat the error. 2 There’s nothing quite like federal acquisition Nearly every CIO interviewed said acquisition was a big and unpleas- ant surprise. Many added that the federal hiring process is not much better. “Procurement and hiring are so hard,” EPA CIO Ann Dunkin said. “It’s harder than you can possibly imagine.” Dunkin, who stepped into the CIO job in early 2015, is no stranger to sprawling organizations. She spent years at Silicon Valley tech giant HP and before coming to Washington was director of technol- ogy and then CTO for California’s Palo Alto Unified School District. But when it comes to acquisition, she said, the federal government presents a level of complexity that is unheard of in local government or the private sector. U.S. Citizenship and Immigra- tion Services CIO Mark Schwartz agreed. Before he started as CIO, a federal IT manager urged him to “get the best procurement and HR specialists you can find.” That advice was absolutely spot-on, he said, but “it took me a couple of years to discover that.” Even Cooper, who has held CIO positions at multiple agencies and in both the private and nonprofit sectors, shuddered when he thought back to what he didn’t know when he became the Department of Homeland Security’s CIO in 2002. “I wish I’d absolutely had...some detailed understanding of the IT acquisition process,” he said, such as the differences between acquir- ing products versus services and the many types of blanket purchase agreements and governmentwide contracts. “My private-sector experience did not prepare me for the unique mechanism of buying things in the federal government,” he said. “You are going to make some mistakes [as you learn]. Apologize, fix it, and have a good laugh [and then don’t repeat the error.]” — NASA CIO RENEE WYNN 0330fcw_016-019.indd 17 3/9/16 10:26 AM
March 15, 2016
April 15, 2016