VIEW FROM THE FRONT
She tends Commerce's digital garden
Department's fertile ground nurtures a dynamic change to e-government
By Richard W. Walker
At the Commerce Department, flowers are budding everywhere.
No, Commerce isn't installing flower boxes in every office window or planting a nursery.
Flowers are Commerce Digital Department director Karen Hogan's metaphor for the veritable garden of online projects that are cropping up across the agency.
'We have all these flowers that are blooming,' said Hogan, a former elementary-school librarian who has spent more than 20 years working her way up the federal information technology career ladder. 'They're helpful and bright, all the things that the flower represents.'
Hogan, whose organization is a component of the chief information officer's office, directs a staff of 21 and is responsible for Commerce's transition to the Federal Technology Service 2001 contract as well the department's online initiative.
There's nothing equivocal about Commerce's drive to embrace electronic government.
'In a nutshell, what we're trying to do is have the department do as much of its business electronically as it possibly can,' she said. 'And part of that is doing it smartly and efficiently as well, not just electronically.'Waste no time
Telecommuting is 'the answer to a lot of things.'
' Karen Hogan
Hogan and CIO Roger Baker have established an aggressive schedule to reach Commerce Secretary William Daley's goal of making the agency a fully electronic department by 2002.
The department's self-imposed imperative is succinct: The transition to an electronic environment will be 'rapid and dynamic.'
The multipart focus of Commerce's digital initiative is on its mission, administrative processes, and external transactions and services to the public, other federal agencies and the private sector.
One of Hogan's key projects is a departmentwide intranet, which is being built in three phases.
The first phase, linking employees in the secretary's office by a secure intranet, was completed late last year.
In the second phase, the intranet will be extended to all Commerce staff members at the 15 bureaus and departments in the Washington area by Dec. 31.
And by the end of next year, the intranet will be available to Commerce employees around the world, completing the final phase.
Hogan said that deployment of the Washington-area intranet'the second phase'is well ahead of schedule.
'My expectation is that we can deliver on that by the end of this fiscal year [Sept. 30],' she said. 'We have a solution in place for the metropolitan area, and we're testing it.'
The department also is pushing teleworking for its employees.
In the CIO's office, employees can telecommute one day a week and, as a focused experiment, software development staff members are teleworking two days a week, Hogan said.
The software developers 'have all the tools they need at home,' she said. 'They can do it at home, and they can do it here. So we're trying it for a three-month period to see how it works with those people doing two days a week.'
Telecommuting is 'the answer to a lot of things,' Hogan said. 'It gives you quiet time to work. It gives you really good concentration. On the personal side, it gives you more time that you're not sitting in the car commuting. It's for the greater good'it keeps one more person off the road.'
Hogan also telecommutes occasionally, logging into Commerce's e-mail and calendar systems from her home PC to stay in touch with what's happening at the office.
'I do it some, mostly when I have a lot of reading or planning to do and really need quiet time, because I don't get that here at all,' she said.
The seeds for Hogan's federal career in computers were planted in 1969, when she was completing a bachelor's degree in elementary education and library science at Madison College, now James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Va.
In researching prospects for graduate schools, she ran across futuristic scenarios in which computers were able to search books and libraries all over the world.
Intrigued about the potential for computer technology, Hogan opted to go to work as teacher and school librarian. After three years, she stopped working to care for her children. In the late 1970s her children were old enough to attend school. She decided to go back to work but didn't want to teach again.
'I looked around at what was available,' she said. 'Computers and computers in government were really growing, and there was a lot of opportunity to go in and learn.'
In 1978 she landed a job as a data transcriber with the Naval Supply Systems Command in Mechanicsburg, Pa., and soon was in an on-the-job computer training program. 'I did a lot of system programming and database work in those early years,' she said.
After five years in Mechanicsburg, she took a job in data administration at NAVSUP's headquarters in Arlington, Va.
'The whole Naval Supply Systems Command had no data administration program at all'that was typical of a lot of organizations'and we had a target date of two years to get one implemented,' she said. 'We got it done in 18 months.'
In 1987, Hogan moved to the Defense Logistics Agency and worked on a master's degree in information systems at George Washington University. After 17 years with the Defense Department, Hogan became administrator for computer and telecommunications operations at Commerce's Patent and Trademark Office.
Two years later, she was named CIO of the Census Bureau. Last year, when Baker offered her the chance to head the fledgling Digital Department initiative, she jumped at it.
'I've been fortunate in my career to have had a lot of different opportunities,' she said. 'That's really helpful because no matter which way you turn, if you're having an acquisition problem, a technical problem, a telecom problem or a policy issue and you have some background in those areas, you know what the ramifications are and have some solutions.'
One of the biggest challenges in creating a digital department is cultural, Hogan said.
'It's the rethinking of how we do what we do,' she said, adding that managers have to provide leadership. 'It's the willingness and eagerness on the part of managers that leads to change.'