Linda Cureton NASA CIO

GCN AWARDS' CIVILIAN EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR

NASA's Cureton is winning through inspiration

When Linda Cureton took over as NASA CIO in 2009, she set a lofty vision for her new team: to become—and to be seen as—the best IT department in government.

“When people think about NASA, they think about going to the moon and landing rovers on Mars, [but] not necessarily NASA’s IT capabilities,” she said. “We weren’t really known for the things that we could have been known for, which was our innovation, our program and project management, things like that. So I told my team that we needed to have the audacity to believe in ourselves and then go out and strive to be better than the rest.”

That sense of competitiveness may seem unconventional, but Cureton, a former CIO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and former deputy CIO at the Energy Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, has never had a desire to fit the traditional mold of a government IT executive.

For starters, Cureton, who excels in mathematics and music, says she applies both left-brain and right-brain thinking in her job. This approach has enabled her to develop an out-front, creative leadership style that relies heavily on social media tools to tout her vision, to personalize and publicize the IT effort at NASA and to encourage more cross-agency collaboration and innovation.

Cureton embraces change by demonstrating it. She blogs avidly and was an early user of Twitter, Facebook and other Web 2.0 applications, all designed to raise her profile and show the latest technology tools in action. She’s also pushed NASA to use the “magic of social media” to make agency projects and personnel more “real” to the general public.

Her approach already has helped lift NASA’s IT profile. Under her guidance, NASA has been a successful adopter of cloud computing. She established the office of chief technology officer for IT to focus on innovation and drive change through enterprise architecture, and she created a CIO leadership team composed of herself and the CIOs at NASA’s 10 centers as way to create a “single agency vision for what IT should look like,” she said.

Those efforts have come together recently in the launch of an IT reform strategy aimed at revolutionizing how technology is managed at NASA. The plan calls for the IT department to focus on streamlining investment management practices, to use cloud and shared services whenever appropriate, to industry-best practices and build an IT foundation that supports greater end-user mobility and IT customer support.

“I hope that I’m changing the way people view the CIO in government,” she said. “Too often, we talk about IT reform, consolidation, and so forth, but that’s sort of the easier part for a CIO. The hard part is to really be a credible person on the leadership team and to be real and transparent and willing to do the hard stuff while also staying focused on the customer and the stakeholder and the mission.”

About the Author

H.B. Hatter is a freelance technology writer.

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