Editor's Desk | A vacuum at DISA

Commentary: Lt. Gen. Charles Croom's departure leaves a big void at the top of the Defense Information Systems Agency

Lt. Gen. Charles Croom

It's hard to talk about the government's information technology future without confronting the exodus of top professionals retiring from federal agencies.

Harder still, perhaps, is watching who's leaving ' individuals such as the Interior Department's Ed Meagher, the Transportation Department's Bob Suda, and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy's Rob Burton this month alone ' and sensing the voids of expertise being left behind.

One retirement that concerns us in particular, however, is the departure of Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Croom, who is stepping down this week after three years as director of the Defense Information Systems Agency and 35 years of federal service.

His departure is compounded by the Senate Armed Services Committee's unexpected decision last month to block the nomination of his successor, Navy Rear Adm. Elizabeth Hight.

Croom proved a gifted leader at DISA. He understood how to use vision, empowerment, humility and respect to tackle seemingly intractable issues. He also infused a new sense of pragmatism and speed. His mantra, 'adopt before you buy, buy before you create' has taken root in a culture that once believed building IT was the only way to go.

Less than a decade ago, DISA was on the brink of being dismantled, hobbled by deepening dissatisfaction with the value and service it was providing. The 2001 terrorist attacks revealed ' and ultimately revived ' DISA's importance in supporting the military's data and telecommunications networks. It took the leadership of Gen. James Cartwright on the Joint Staff and Croom's predecessor, Lt. Gen. Harry Raduege, to win DISA the authority ' and its director the three-star general's rank ' needed to regain traction.

Croom shifted that traction into higher gear. And many regarded Hight as a highly capable successor.

Her nomination, submitted in February, was killed because of concerns that her marriage to a vice president of business development at Northrop Grumman would be rife with conflicts of interest.

The concern is legitimate. But its timing and impact are disappointing.

Hight is a talented leader who understands military IT and DISA's role in supporting it. The decision not only leaves her future contributions at DISA in the lurch but also creates a leadership vacuum ' one that could have been avoided ' at a critical time for DISA.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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