INTERVIEW: Daryl W. White, Interior's CIO

Y2K spurs department into IT age

Daryl W. White has been the Interior Department's chief information officer since March 1998. Before that, he spent five months as the department's deputy CIO.

He began his government career in 1973 as management analyst for the Army in Stuttgart, Germany.

During his 25-year career as a civilian employee in the Army, he held positions in resource management, logistics, cost analysis, weapons systems analysis, acquisition support, intelligence and security.

During operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, White was the civilian deputy of the Army Support Group in Saudi Arabia, where he was responsible for depot supply and maintenance support to the deployed forces.

Before coming to Interior, White was the deputy director of the Army Digitization Office at the Pentagon.

GCN staff writer Tony Lee Orr interviewed White at his Interior office.

GCN:'What is the status of information technology program planning and management at the Interior Department?

WHITE: Since I came on board in October 1997 and became the chief information officer in March 1998, in a very short period of time I was introduced to three areas of challenge. First, there was the Y2K problem. Second, there was the Bureau of Indian Affairs trust management: They are bringing in new systems to replace old and outdated systems. And the third was the Bureau of Land Management's Automated Land and Mineral Record System program with a lifecycle cost of $440 million.

They were fairly well along with ALMRS, actually getting ready for an operational assessment of a release of the software. The hardware was pretty much in place. I had been warned early on that the project was in trouble. There was pressure for me to think about terminating or at least getting them to restructure significantly.

Everything I've done in my career has been some sort of project management troubleshooting. The first thing you have to understand is that a lot of the information you are going to get is going to be biased. I started to get a consensus that the ALMRS program was in real trouble. People who were going to field the system weren't necessarily in sync with the people who were developing it.

People who were developing the system perhaps weren't corresponding enough with the folks who where going to use the system. And then I found the developer and the government had two sets of milestones. As it worked out, it was not a deployable system. It would have cost us too much money in operations maintenance.

Now there is an opportunity for the Bureau of Land Management to go back and do it right. And they, in fact, are doing that. We took the results of the independent verification validation and used that as a basis of things that were wrong: out of touch with the user community, response times too slow, requirements not requirements that were expected by the users. That was a good foundation to repair from.

Now, they are heading into planning. They are reorganizing. They've done some assessments.

GCN:'Who does the best job of project management in government?

WHITE: I would say, right now, probably the Defense Department, because it is more visible. I think information is one of the main pillars in how Defense operates: information security and information warfare. What DOD wants is the most information about the other person, and it wants to deny any information to that person about us. They are managing information, truly, as a resource. To them that is their core competency; that is how they get measured, and that is out in the forefront.

There are other success stories. Look at different departments that have engaged in electronic commerce, and look at what we are doing with electronic government. The General Services Administration is going to lead that. We want the American public to have more access to the data we have.

GCN:'Which do you think is the bigger role of IT in government: developing technology to support administrative functions or developing technology that drives the agency's mission?

WHITE: It's an internal and external situation. Obviously, we need to have a good finance and accounting system because the better management we do of our physical resources the more money we can apply to our programs. We can spend it more efficiently. If we can become more efficient inside, then maybe we can offload some costs and put them toward the program side.

Look at the external view. At the National Park Service, an external view for someone visiting a park, wanting to stay in a park, is the National Reservation System. The reservation system is e-commerce because you can call up, you can get a reservation and you can charge it'and it's all done using the Internet. I think that's a very powerful tool, but it shouldn't stop there.

GCN:'How close is Interior to an ideal IT situation?

WHITE: I think Y2K helped us get to a much more current state of the art. We were fairly well behind the state of the art. People are generating ideas every day as to what to do with IT.

Because the word computer often has the word personal before it, people take it personally. It is something they can take home. They can play with it at home, then come back and say, 'You know, I can do this at home, why can't I do this in the office?' Or, 'I was on the Internet the other night, and I'm wondering why Interior doesn't have this capability.'

I think what has happened is that Interior has moved from a non-IT age to an IT age. The thing now is to keep managers totally involved and to keep building on it.

Almost everyone in the department has an e-mail address. That requires having access to information. Even people out in the field working at a wildlife refuge have IT with them. They have a radio. They have a cellular phone. They may have a tape recorder. They may have a laptop computer'many times they do'and a video camera. And say, 'Here is where I am at.' So, if someone needs to come here they can retrace my steps, both visually and orally. So I think that we are at a very high level of use.

What's More

  • Age: 52
  • Car: 2000 Toyota Tundra 4x4
  • Last book read: Rainbow Six by Tom Clancy
  • Last movie seen: 'Keeping the Faith'
  • Leisure activities: Motorcycling, and water and snow skiing
  • Motto: 'When in charge, take charge.'

GCN:'What specific things are you doing to attain that ideal IT environment?

WHITE: We don't need to be in the software development business. We need to be in the software and systems acquisitions business. Just like we don't need to do a lot of things IT-wise in this department that industry can do for us.

There are some parts of IT that we don't need to be in the business. We don't need to compete with Bill Gates obviously, and, luckily, there is enough software out there that we don't have to.

Now, admittedly, not everything we do is covered by a commercial, off-the-shelf product. We have some systems, for example, that are modified, off-the-shelf. Why? Because nobody does business like the Bureau of Indian Affairs does business. It's sort of a one-of-a-kind. But somebody else is actually going to do the work. The thing is that we have to communicate the requirements to them, get them to come up with a product. We have to test and accept the product, we have to acquire it and then manage it.

It's still a significant challenge. It still requires good project management expertise. But if you look at the Software Engineering Institute's Capability Maturity Model, you would say less development, more acquisition is required. And that is where we are headed.

GCN:'What is the biggest threat to your IT plans?

WHITE: It's sort of systemic to Interior, but we are not project managers for IT. Going back to when I worked in the Army, there is a professional cadre of project managers because they have a professional acquisition corps. They have the defense acquisition gradations behind them that show you have to have certain skills and education and experience to perform certain jobs as a project manager, and they invest in that.

We don't necessarily do that in the civilian sector. What we do is go out and find the best person, for example in human resources, and say: 'Guess what. We want a new HR system, and you are the best HR person we have. We are going to make you the project manager.'

It's an IT project, but they don't understand the phases of it. They don't understand the metrics behind it in terms of cost schedule and performance. They don't know how to talk to industry in those kinds of parameters because we haven't given them the tools, to be frank. So now we see where some of our projects have died on the vine.

Then, there is overcommitment. We bite off more than we can chew. In other words, going for the Lexus when the Chevrolet would have done it.

You have to remember: It's the person who gets the system that you have to satisfy, not a bunch of analysts.

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