INTERVIEW: Kathleen A. Rundle, USDA Kansas City IT maven

USDA center puts customers first

Kathleen A. Rundle

Kathleen A. Rundle is associate chief information officer for the National Information Technology Center in Kansas City, Mo., and manages it as a wide-ranging fee-for-service IT business.

She began working for the center in 1995, but has held other systems posts for USDA in Kansas City since 1979. During that time, Rundle has tried her hand at many facets of systems management, from technical support and database administration to acquisition planning and services marketing.

Rundle began her federal career as an ADP intern for the Army's Data Processing Field Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. After a two-year internship, she spent six years as a programmer in the Army field office.

She has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Avila College.

The career fed has been recognized for her work on the Integrated Computing Environment'Mainframe and Network contract, a program that USDA ran for the Federal Aviation Administration.

Rundle is also a member of the Government IT Executive Council. This March, she was elected president of the council after having spent a year term as its vice president.

GCN staff writer Preeti Vasishtha interviewed Rundle at the Information Processing Agency Conference 2001 in Austin, Texas.


GCN: What are some of the major challenges you've had to face in your work at the National Information Technology Center?

RUNDLE: For most of the years, it's been more of an opportunity than a challenge.

The Agriculture Department decided to consolidate its mainframe operations in the early 1980s. It consolidated the St. Louis Computer Center in Kansas City, and then the center in Washington was consolidated. That was a huge project.

I had different roles, but at that time I was a database administrator, and then I moved up to become a supervisor. I supervised database administrators and led various projects.

My role was to keep the processing going while others did the consolidation. I typically oversaw the database focus, making sure that things moved right during those years.

Then, we moved into a continuous operations environment. That was in early 1990s, when the Forest Service needed a site to do their weather information management system. My role again was project leader.

It was a cultural change for the center because previously we came down for backups and we came down for maintenance. So it was a change at the center to say that we were going to update the system once a year and that we were going to stay operational on a 24-by-7 basis.

We had run in unattended mode only on weekends, and left the lights on and the systems running. It was a change to learn how to make sure the systems were updated and never came down and how to do the hard backups for the databases.

GCN: How did you advance to become the center's associate chief information officer?

RUNDLE: I moved up through the ranks as people retired. It has been a combination of hard work and the drive to move up.

I've enjoyed working at the center and always enjoyed talking to customers, finding out what they are doing, learning new technologies and the changes. Change is good, but a lot of people do not like change. But through all these types of projects, you always learn.

GCN: Describe a project that was particularly demanding.





WHAT'S MORE




  • Family: Married, with three children: Anne, 23, a graduate student at the University of Indianapolis; Paul, 19, a freshman at Emporia State University; Daniel, 16, a high school sophomore


  • Hobbies: Attending younger son's soccer and track events, and teaching him to drive


  • Last book read: Patricia Cornwell's The Last Precinct


  • Last movies seen: 'Unbreakable' and 'Remember the Titans'


  • Car: Toyota 4Runner


  • RUNDLE: In 1997, we did the Integrated Computing Environment'Mainframe and Network consolidation for the Federal Aviation Administration. That was an interesting project. The industry was not happy about us winning the ICE'MAN contract.

    It was [during] the years that the government operations were challenged to be more businesslike and efficient. Our office really always has been, and that wasn't new to us.

    At the time, I'd just been named acting director, and I had come from an environment that was very technical. I was not used to being a director, and there were lots and lots of oversight agencies and controversies surrounding the project. So the challenge really was to keep the employees focused on doing the work and making the project successful, and for me to handle the outside challenges.

    That was a very different type of environment, and we really needed that project to succeed to show that we were a successful, businesslike center.

    I was new; Anne [F. Thomson] Reed was new in her CIO position at the department; the office was new; and we had a huge challenging process with congressional inquiries and oversight agencies watching us closely. We used a lot of contract help, and there was a lot of vendor participation to make the project a success.

    We migrated on time.

    GCN: How has the government's IT work force shortage affected the center?

    RUNDLE: We've had a few people leave for Sprint Corp., which has its headquarters in Kansas City. Kansas City is really a high-tech area, although not many people realize that. There are many technology companies.

    Over the years, our challenge has been losing people to retirement and replacing those people.

    Another challenge has been getting younger people to replace those people. That's hard, too. We seem to be hiring new people the same age as we are.

    We've had a few young people starting to come in. It could be that public service is starting to be viewed as a good thing. I've always enjoyed it, and I've always worked very hard.

    But there is a perception that if you work for the government, you go to work at 8 in the morning and leave at 4, take long breaks and put your feet up all day. That's not true.

    GCN: How are women faring professionally in government IT?

    RUNDLE: Several years ago, it was a male-dominated work force. I was the only woman when I interned as an Army programmer in 1974. In 1979, when I joined Agriculture, I was a GS-12, and I was the only computer specialist at the center. There was another lady who was in the keypunch area then.

    Now, we have several women. My deputy is a woman. For our office, it's not 50-50, but it's certainly not a fact that most of the people are male. It's about 40-60.

    Women are holding their own in the field.

    GCN: Were you in any uncomfortable situations because of being a woman?

    RUNDLE: Back in the early years, there were problems. When I first came to Agriculture, even though I was a computer specialist, I still did data entry and answered the phone. But I moved up and as people watched me, they said, 'She really does know the answer to that.' I don't know if that was just because I was a woman or that I was new.

    I have never felt I have been mistreated. I have always been fortunate enough to work with good people who probably have had more confidence in me than I sometimes have had in myself, and they have pushed me and challenged me to grow.

    In our office we work as a team; I don't like to make all the decisions alone. We think it's our task to set the pace for employees. We make team decisions.

    The center doesn't get any appropriated funds, and none of our customers are mandated to use the services. Even our Agriculture customers can choose to go elsewhere. So we hold customer service high, and we know that we have to do a good job.

    GCN: How do you ensure a project's success?

    RUNDLE: I have very, very good people that I am very proud of. They've never faced a challenge that they haven't met. The center has overtime, but we are not a sweatshop. For the year 2000 preparations, we were working at all hours to get the work done. We did not hire tons of new people to do that.

    We've had to learn to change our processes and learn how to work more efficiently and effectively. It's challenging at times, but we've come a long way.

    The keys to success are teamwork and knowing the customers and knowing what their focus is. If they call me with a problem, then it becomes my problem. It's no longer their problem because if they are not successful, then we were not successful.

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