INTERVIEW: T. Wood Parker, TRW's enterprising planner
Sometimes, success is hard to see
T. Wood Parker joined TRW Inc. in January as vice president and general manager of the company's global information technology business in Reston, Va. He came to the job from PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, where he was managing partner of its Washington consulting practice.
T. Wood Parker
In his new position he oversees TRW's $3 billion-a-year federal civilian business, as well as its state and local sectors and commercial programs in IT systems and services.
TRW has large contracts with cabinet departments, including Treasury and Health and Human Services, and Parker has a long history of working for and with government.
He is a retired Navy officer and served on the President's Commission on White House Fellowships and as president of the White House Fellows Association. He also is a member of the Planning Forum, a principal on the Council for Excellence in Government and a director of the Northern Virginia Habitat for Humanity.
Parker received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Auburn University in Alabama and a master's in international relations from Miami University.
GCN senior editor William Jackson interviewed Parker. GCN: What are some of TRW Inc.'s large government projects?PARKER:
The areas for which I am responsible focus on the civilian side of government in systems integration, network operations and associated services. We also have some special skills in information security.
We do a lot of work for the Treasury Communications System. We support the IRS and other bureaus. We are the principal systems support organization for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and we do work for the Securities and Exchange Commission's Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval system.GCN: Agencywide information technology programs are difficult to bring off. Is it any different when an agency outsources them?PARKER:
I think we're making progress across the board. The challenges associated with agencywide programs are a reality in the federal government. When a huge organization determines it is important to have systems that cut across the entire department, and when at the same time there are agencies within the department that are huge in their own right, it is a huge challenge for the contractor.
My belief is that the key to success is collaboration between the contractors and the government customers to achieve clarity and consensus. If there is disagreement or lack of consensus, the slope of the hill is steeper than it otherwise would be.GCN: Do your government customers agree with you?PARKER:
I think people who have experience in the government for the most part would agree. Keep in mind that in my organization we deal with the commercial marketplace as well.
Family: Married to Emelie; three daughters, ages 33, 29 and 27; one granddaughter
Last book read: TRW: Pioneering Technology and Innovation Since 1900 by Davis Dyer, and The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell
Leisure activities: Growing roses and beekeeping
Motto: 'It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.' 'Charles Darwin
There are a number of differences. One is the size and complexity of some of our government customers. It makes it a different ball game in terms of IT support or implementing departmentwide systems. Also, the government has some constituencies beyond any of our commercial customers, whether it is Congress or the regulators. The stakeholders complicate the overall process.GCN: Is the federal market becoming more like the commercial market?PARKER:
I think the government is making significant progress in acquisition policies to move more toward the commercial model. But at the same time, there is simply a difference because of the political context.
The way the appropriators and authorizers in Congress process the budgets and money each year is different from the commercial marketplace. Also, the political appointees in the departments change more frequently than decision-makers on the commercial side.GCN: You stepped into your job about the same time as the Bush administration came in. Have there been noticeable changes under the new administration?PARKER:
When there is a transition from one administration to another, it is felt to some degree by contractors.
If you take the Bush administration's review of the Defense Department as an example, the strategic considerations have a significant potential impact on programs that a company such as TRW would be supporting. And when you talk about a change from one party to another, those reviews are going to be more significant.
In my world, there are tremendous issues associated with regulation that the new administration is reconsidering. We participate in some form in many of the discussions, trying to help our customers through these analyses. We know it will have an impact on our business.GCN: How important is security to your government customers?PARKER:
Security is extraordinarily important. If you look at health care, for example, the Bush administration just issued some decisions on the privacy of patient records. As the health care industry moves from a paper process to electronic information management, you obviously come to security. The same thing can apply to financial data, whether at the government or the individual level.GCN: The government routinely gets poor marks for security. Is technology adequate, or is this primarily a people problem?PARKER:
People and procedures are important. There are physical security issues, and issues in data transmission. Technology is available, but like everything else there are trade-offs. There are cost implications, complexity implications, regulatory implications.GCN: What are the government's greatest IT needs now?PARKER:
Two come to mind. One is that the government in many cases still depends on legacy systems, relatively old IT. The change to more modern technology is a real issue.
The second need is IT expertise. Today, younger people with skills in IT typically do not go to a federal agency to start their careers. The opportunities are more attractive in the commercial marketplace.GCN: Will the economic downturn make government employment more attractive?PARKER:
As someone who works with the government a great deal, I would like to see more people go into public service. But I'm not sure the recent cooling-off of the economy and the fall of tech stocks will really move the needle.
I don't know, but when you think in terms of opportunities, they still are greater in the commercial marketplace than they are in the public sector.GCN: Have any agencies been successful in upgrading legacy systems? Are there any agencies that have changed the way they do business?PARKER:
A lot of the agencies are attempting to do this. The IRS, when you think in terms of the number of people who are filing electronically compared to the past, is an agency that is adapting and adopting new things.
There are still problems and challenges. But the number of people who are filing returns electronically should be reassuring.GCN: The IRS has been criticized for not being able to get its modernization program done. Is that an inherent risk for an agency that is making such large changes?PARKER:
Anytime an organization changes, it is hard for the people involved in the processes. We're going to see that across the board in the government, particularly in agencies that provide services directly to the American people.
But at IRS, with all of the disappointment associated with new systems, the fact remains, more people are filing their forms electronically.GCN: You do work at the state and local levels as well as the federal level. How would you compare those markets?PARKER:
State governments, like the federal government, have challenges with legacy systems that need to be modernized.
In many areas of service to citizens, the devolution of responsibilities from the federal government to the states will continue. To do that effectively, there has to be collaboration and coordination between the federal and state governments.