GCN AWARDS | Hall of Fame
Tom Davis made the connection between technology and reform
While pursuing changes in procurement, he became a champion for IT issues
- By Richard W. Walker
- Oct 12, 2009
From the beginning, Tom Davis has always tried to think several moves ahead of the game in Congress.
When the Republican from Virginia’s 11th District was elected to the House in 1994, instead of going full-bore for an assignment on a big, powerful committee, such as the Ways and Means Committee, he sought membership on the newly revamped but under-the-radar Government Operations Committee, where he thought he could make an impact as a government reformer.
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The Government Operations Committee had been around for decades — it was established in 1952 — but the new Republican majority broadened its scope, folding jurisdiction over the civil service, U.S. Post Office and District of Columbia into its governmentwide oversight responsibilities, which included federal contracting and procurement.
“That’s a powerhouse,” Davis said. “But no one wanted to get on it. It was a committee that a lot of members didn’t pay much attention to. I found my niche and found a topic, [contracting and procurement], that other members really didn’t have much interest in or know much about. I was focused on these issues and could go right to the head of the class. When issues came up, I knew more about it than anybody else just because of my business experience. A lot of people would read the briefing papers right before a hearing or a markup, but I read the footnotes, and I was able to get some expertise in the area. It was a great opportunity to make a difference.”
In due course, Davis, who served seven terms in Congress, would become chairman of the committee — renamed the Government Reform Committee during the 106th Congress — and become widely known as the leading congressional expert on technology and procurement. He also was the catalyst for policies in those areas.
Davis also was co-founder and chairman of the Information Technology Working Group, which was formed to help members of Congress better understand important issues in the computer and technology sectors. Before becoming chairman of the Government Reform Committee, Davis led several subcommittees, including the Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee.
Davis, who retired from the House in 2007, joined Deloitte as director of federal government relations in November 2008.
Mark Forman, former administrator of e-government and information technology at the Office of Management and Budget, said Davis was unique in working his way into a position in the House committee structure where he could effect change in government.
“He understands how the technology related to management reform,” Forman said. “Normally, the people who understand that don’t feel it’s a big enough issue for their constituency. Of course, with Tom representing North Virginia, [where many IT companies are headquartered], it was a constituent issue as well as a government reform issue. He didn’t have to [position himself]. There are other members who represent the technology industry but don’t work themselves into a position.”
Forman, principal of KPMG and the company’s practice leader for federal IT advisory services, continued: “It was one of these unique situations where the member has to have that understanding and then want to be in a powerful position. I think that’s a real tribute to Tom Davis as a person. He wanted to make a difference in reforming the government and along that way to serve his constituents.”
Davis began to accumulate experience in government IT and contracting well before he was elected to Congress. From 1980 to 1987, he was general counsel for a small start-up company in Northern Virginia called Ad Tech, a government contractor. He then moved to PRC, another Northern Virginia technology firm, where he was vice president and general counsel.
A graduate of Amherst College and the University of Virginia Law School, Davis was elected to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors at age 30 and served for 12 years before being elected chairman of the board in 1991. In that capacity, he sought to cut costs and make the county government more efficient. He also saw a future for the IT industry.
“We looked over our budget situation and ripped everything to pieces except for two things — we added money for economic development and for IT because you’ve got to invest in the future,” he said.
As a county executive, Davis planted the seeds for his vision of government IT. “Knowledge is power,” he said. “The more information you have, the faster you move it and deploy it, the better decisions you’re going to make. That’s the future of business, and government should be able to benefit from the same things.”
While in Congress, Davis sponsored more than 100 bills that became law, including the milestone Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, which requires federal agencies to provide security for the data and information systems that support their operations and assets, including those provided or managed by another agency, contractor or other source.
“We got some laws passed that I think changed things,” he said. “FISMA is a little outdated today, but at least on the cyber side, it brought together the fact that there was no coordination in the agencies, they weren’t accountable and there was no credit for people who were doing it right or learning to do it right. So I think we made a lot of progress, but still there is a long way to go.”
Davis’s efforts in Congress were no doubt buttressed by his committee chairmanship and bipartisan approach to moving legislation. “He knew how to share credit and where to put in an offense, versus where to be a catalyst on different initiatives,” Forman said. “And underlying that is the fact that government reform is not a partisan issue. Government reform is a government issue, so it’s a tribute to him that he didn’t approach it as a partisan issue.”
Davis said that when he took over the chairmanship of the Government Reform Committee from Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) in January 2003, it had traditionally been a partisan battlefield. “Burton didn’t even speak to" ranking member Henry Waxman, a California Democrat," he said. “They had no relationship. I called Henry and said, ‘Henry, how do we work this thing? These are my goals, what are your goals?’ We had a good relationship.”
“That’s the kind of thing that makes him the perfect inductee into the [GCN] Hall of Fame,” said Forman, who, during his tenure as the government’s IT leader, often testified before Davis’s committee. “If you look at the people on that list, they are people who understood that management reform is an excellence-in-government issue.”