Tekai, Carey, Wennergren, McGrath (Colin Kelly / Gannett Government Media Co.)
The recent departure of Defense Department CIO Teri Takai is just the latest in a series of high-level executives leaving behind prominent IT-focused positions — and that’s just at the Pentagon, to say nothing of exits at other federal agencies. The trend may continue as the Obama administration draws to a close, but it happens against a backdrop of significant change in defense IT.
The Joint Information Enterprise, defense enterprise email, data center consolidation, a new spectrum strategy, cloud and a wholesale departmentwide move toward shared IT services are all major efforts underway, in various stages, at the Pentagon. The DoD CIO office is central to all of them.
And beyond the CIO organization, the top two roles at the Pentagon’s deputy chief management office, which oversees business management and a number of critical DoD IT systems, also were vacated late last year. So what happens now with Takai, her former deputy Robert Carey, and the Office of Deputy Chief Management Officer (DCMO) leadership all out of the picture?
“There are serious considerations and potential ramifications if global defense networks don’t function or support the troops properly. We have strong participants in the military services, combatant commands and the intelligence community, but also we need that overarching top level guidance, direction and oversight in policy to hold that all together and move that forward,” said Harry Raduege, chairman of the Deloitte Center for Cyber Innovation and former director of the Defense Information Systems Agency. “With the importance of network operations and security in cyberspace, the departure of any CIO, frankly, in any public or private organization could result in a leadership vacuum if you don’t have the proper individuals in place and don’t have the benefit of the continuity of CIO leadership being in place.”
The DoD CIO and DCMO offices have more in common than both missing their No. 1 and No. 2 — both are drivers in Pentagon IT policy, and they share responsibilities in carrying out the business of the Pentagon. Their mutual lack of permanent leadership comes at an inauspicious time, considering DoD’s high-profile IT programs and the DCMO office spearheading mandated audit-readiness and financial-management initiatives, both of which hinge on IT modernization.
“The partnership that DoD CIO and DCMO often had was very strong and very important, because at the end of the day it’s about executing business running on IT infrastructure and applications,” said Elizabeth McGrath, who stepped down as DoD DCMO in January and now is a partner at Deloitte. “There’s a great marriage between those two functions and a call for them to work together to ensure we position the department well. Trying to get a comprehensive perspective on the federal business base and understanding how we do what we do, how we execute the mission, the necessarily decisions to make — both roles are about trying to improve how DoD does business and getting rid of redundancies.”
The responsibilities of keeping the critical business of defense IT on track during the interim is, for now, going to fall to those next in line on the org chart. Dave DeVries, deputy DoD CIO for joint information enterprise, is set to step in to Takai’s role on an acting basis, and McGrath noted that many functional and implementation responsibilities will continue to be carried out by the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps CIOs.
“There are very good people still within both organizations who will need to step up and execute,” McGrath said. The service CIOs “are critical to really keeping the department moving forward. It would be ideal for every position to be filled, but it’s unrealistic given the turnover of political positions and the [traditionally] short tenure. It’s important for [new Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work] and the secretary to find capable people to fill those slots, but I also have confidence in the civilian and military workforce to keep focus on things that matter and need to be done every day.”
As for what kind of people should fill the big shoes left behind by Takai, Carey, McGrath and former assistant DCMO Dave Wennergren, both Raduege and McGrath agree that leadership will be the most critical characteristic — but not the only one.
“In such a complex and vital operation as DoD, there’s a critical need for the right person to provide strong leadership, comprehensive policy and development of that policy, especially in the changing, dynamic world of IT and cyberspace today. The individual needs to be able to provide meaningful guidance across and for the department, and to provide broad oversight of all global DoD operations,” Raduege said. “Dealing with all the funding issues and coordinating the activities of some pretty divergent organizations that are global in nature and broad-ranging — it’s a huge job, and moving forward we’re going to depend on getting the right person in there to continue making progress.”■