Justice's IT guru returns to private life

Mark A. Boster’s efforts toward better
cooperation among Justice bureaus bore fruit, a Justice administrator says.


This time Mark A. Boster says he is leaving federal service for good—he thinks.


Boster, who has overseen the Justice Department’s information technology
operations for the last five years, will leave his post as deputy assistant attorney
general for IRM and deputy chief information officer this month to return to the private
sector.


He moved up to the deputy CIO post from a year-long stint as the department’s
telecommunications chief. Before he came to Justice, Boster spent a year in the private
sector working on the much ballyhooed but failed Postal Buddy kiosks. Before that he had
worked in systems administration at both the Farmers Home Administration and the Food and
Drug Administration.


When he leaves his Justice post, Boster said he will first take some time off. But then
he plans to land a new job in industry.


Assistant attorney general for administration Stephen R. Colgate has named Linda Burek,
the director of the systems technology staff, as acting deputy assistant attorney general
until a permanent replacement is found.


Boster said it was time for a change. “I’ve been able to accomplish what I
wanted to accomplish,” said Boster, who also is chairman of the CIO Council’s
Security Committee.


His tenure coincided with an increased focus by both Congress and President Clinton on
crime, which in turn prompted increased spending on IT to support the government’s
crime-fighters.


Boster said when he came to Justice, his goal was to increase cooperation among the
department’s bureaus. “We made a lot of progress in that area,” he said.
“Today, there’s a lot more mutual respect for the different components,
including the department level.”


Justice bureaus traditionally have been fiercely independent and resistant to
departmentwide initiatives, Colgate said.


“Mark has worked tirelessly and effectively to bring a new spirit of cooperation
to the department’s information technology community,” he said. “His
leadership has borne fruit in many areas, including the Justice Consolidated Network,
computer security, access to the Internet and e-mail exchange between components.”


Those efforts have not been painless, Boster acknowledged. “It took a long
time,” he said. Plus, Boster said, he had to make sure he worked as a facilitator and
not a dictator.


He also had to troubleshoot the JCON implementation. The program’s goal was to
bring Justice systems services to desktop PCs for most department employees. In March
1996, the department awarded a $500 million contract to GTE Government Systems Corp. of
Needham Heights, Mass.


But within a year, technical difficulties with the program prompted Boster and his
staff to revamp the effort and create a new set of requirements. The department then
negotiated blanket purchasing agreements with Digital Equipment Corp. and Wang Global of
Billerica, Mass., to build what the department has dubbed JCON II.


For Boster, the low point of his tenure came when hackers vandalized the
department’s Web site. But in the long run, it was good for the department because it
increased the focus on security, he said.


“Nobody wants to go through that experience,” Boster said, adding that all
agencies should prepare for attacks on critical infrastructures. “It’s not a
question of if you’re going to suffer an attack; it’s a question of when. You
need to be ready for it.”


Boster has rarely been shy with his opinions and has sometimes sparked controversy.


For instance, he has been among the most outspoken IT chiefs on the government’s
inability to attract and keep talented systems workers. Part of the solution is education
and training, he said, because IT workers, more than many other professionals, depend on
lifelong learning.


But he stressed that money is a big factor. “There needs to be a fair wage and an
opportunity for big bonuses,” Boster said. The government needs to find a way to
award bonuses based on performance, he said.

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