1999 GCN Awards Banquet
Camaraderie, good cheer and honors for excellence
Recurring themes'Y2K, security, data privacy,
IT work force issues'pervade the banter
By Shruti Dat' and Christopher J. Dorobek
Resplendent in tuxedos and evening gowns, about 1,000 vendors and federal information technology executives honored their own late last month at the 12th annual GCN Awards Banquet.
Year 2000 readiness was a hot topic of conversation'not surprisingly given that Jan. 1 is less than two months away. Most executives, however, expressed confidence that the hard work agencies have done in recent months will pay off.
Many banquet attendees also said they were looking forward to taking on new challenges, such as improving systems security, bolstering data privacy, addressing work force retention issues and working on online government initiatives.
OAO Corp's Nancy Newhouse and Ginny McCormick share a smile.
The gala at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington started with a cocktail reception and was followed by dinner, the awards ceremony and a dessert reception.
During the ceremony, the hotel fire alarm went off and briefly interrupted the awards presentations. The false alarm led to lots of quips along the lines of: 'This isn't a Y2K problem, is it?''
New Technology Management's Doug Murray jests with one of the roving medieval merrymakers
After a short break, the ceremony proceeded and GCN named its executives of the year.
Kathleen M. Adams, who recently retired as assistant deputy commissioner for systems at the Social Security Administration to become a government sector vice president for SRA International Inc. of Arlington, Va., received the civilian agency honor. Marvin Langston, the Defense Department's deputy chief information officer, took the Defense agency honor. And the industry executive of the year award went to Milton E. Cooper, president of Computer Sciences Corp.'s federal sector.
During the event, GCN also inducted three new members into its Information Technology Hall of Fame:
' Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Albert J. Edmonds, former Defense Information Systems Agency director, currently chief operating officer of Electronic Data Systems Corp.'s government industry group
' Israel Feldman, GCN's founder, currently publisher of E-Gov
' Bruce W. McConnell, former chief of the Office of Management and Budget's Information Policy Branch, currently spearheading international efforts for the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion.
On everyone's lips
The Army's Mimi and David Browning get ready to dine.
Before, during and after the ceremony, the issue of preparing for the date code change provoked discussion. Adams, who was recognized in part for her leadership on the year 2000 problem and who was co-chairwoman of the CIO Council's Year 2000 Committee, said working on problem date code had brought agencies together in an unprecedented way.
Plus, she said, the year 2000 problem truly made senior managers realize how fundamental IT is to agencies' operations.
But the issue looming for those who for months have worked hard and almost exclusively on year 2000 problems is what they will do after January, said David E. Ames, State Department deputy CIO for year 2000.
Many federal executives, reiterating what other feds and vendors have been saying in recent weeks, identified systems security and critical infrastructure protection as the next major areas of focus.
'Based on the scrutiny we are under, I would say computer security is the most important issue,'' said Alvin Pesachowitz, associate assistant administrator and interim CIO for the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Information.
Musicians entertain during the cocktail hour
But the security issue has many facets, the big one being how to balance protection and risk control, Pesachowitz said. Agencies then must convince people they have achieved that balance in a way that works. 'I think it goes together with electronic commerce and public-key infrastructure,'' he said.Fear factor
As agencies do more work online and post more data, security and privacy become increasingly important, said Jerry Russomano, director of the Customs Service's Software Development Division.
Furthermore, many departments are trying to set up networks that will let them move sensitive data along the Internet, said State CIO Fernando Burbano, co-chairman of the CIO Council's Security, Privacy and Critical Infrastructure Committee.
EPA's Alvin Pesachowitz and USDA's Ira Hobbs share a laugh before the dinner and awards ceremony begins.
Transportation Department CIO George R. Molaski, however, said he expects privacy to get more attention than security because it is an issue that resonates with the public. As citizens interact with agencies online, they will want to be reassured that personal data is safe, he said.
And as more government work is done online, McConnell said, the issue of adequate access could take precedence over security.
Asked about what the next big thing on the federal IT horizon will be, he said, 'The normal answer is computer security, but the bigger issue I will be focusing on is assuring access of information to the public.'' McConnell wants to work on closing the gap between the information haves and have-nots.
Agriculture Department deputy CIO Ira Hobbs, co-chairman of the CIO Council's IT Work Force Committee, said attracting and retaining IT workers will be yet another competing priority. This issue is critical because it touches on so many others, he said. IT security, for example, depends on being able to attract trained personnel, Hobbs said.Isosceles at work
The work that the Office of Personnel Management is doing now is 'just the tip of the iceberg,'' Hobbs said, referring to an OPM study of the government's pay scales and job classifications. 'This is a triangular process where we need to get the best people, recognize our limitations and work together,'' he said.Adams foresees a day when government is open 24-7Systems work is a risky endeavor, Langston saysCooper expects that future will be bright in federal IT arenaEdmonds, Feldman and McConnell join ranks of IT Hall of FameTen agencies receive kudos for their high-caliber systems work