Reviewing three decades of change
- By Wilson P. Dizard III
- May 13, 2003
Sue Rachlin, Windows Opener
J Adam Fenster
Sue Rachlin this month retired as deputy CIO of the Interior Department, a post she has held since December 2000.
Among numerous other projects, Rachlin worked on Interior's enterprise agreement with Microsoft Corp., under which it adopted Windows XP Professional and Office XP Professional applications for almost all its desktop systems. Department officials plan to deploy the software throughout Interior by December.
From 1992 to 2000, Rachlin worked as chief of the Agency Applications Services Division at the Agriculture Department's National Information Technology Center. From 1989 to 1992, she was IRM director at Agriculture's Federal Crop Insurance Program.
Before joining USDA, Rachlin held senior IT assignments at the U.S. Information Agency, Justice Department and Air Force. She was also co-chairwoman of the CIO Council's Best Practices Committee and co-secretary of the Association for Federal Information Resources Management.
Rachlin, a native of Troy, Ala., has a bachelor's degree in business administration and accounting from Troy State University and studied information systems management at Auburn University.
GCN senior editor Wilson P. Dizard III interviewed Rachlin at her former Interior office. GCN: The Interior Department is standardizing many of its systems on Microsoft Corp. software. What prompted this and how is it going?
RACHLIN: Our goal in standardizing on Microsoft is to strengthen security, increase interoperability and enforce uniform policies across the department.
Standardizing on Microsoft Windows XP for the desktop PCs and Microsoft Windows 2000 for the servers, supports our deployment of Microsoft Active Directory, which, when completed, will allow us to achieve this goal.
Standardizing on these Microsoft products is also consistent with our enterprise architecture. We've spent a good amount of time planning the implementation and are just beginning the rollout. We expect to complete the deployment by December.GCN: Interior has CIOs at agencies throughout the department. How have you coordinated the activities such as software development, personnel management and other IT projects?
RACHLIN: About a year ago we formed the DOI IT Management Council and implemented a new IT governance process in conjunction with the new council. Voting members of the ITMC are all bureau and office CIOs, plus the department CIO.
The Interior chief procurement officer and budget officer are ex-officio members. The council is a decision-making body and coordinates activities across the department.GCN: What are some of the most dramatic technological changes you have experienced in your 32-year career?
RACHLIN: What has really changed is the computers themselves.
I started my career in 1970 as an intern with the Army. When I got there, the Army was using some fairly old computers; they had Univac card processors. I think they had all of 10K of memory.
We programmed in a single-address assembler language. That was a pretty early language. Not long after I got there, we got real computers. The Army started getting IBM 360 systems. Ours, I think, had 64K of memory.
The computers had to be in a computer room that took an entire floor of our building, with all the special air conditioning and everything that went along with it. I can't help but compare that with what we have on our desks today or in our briefcases'or even our personal digital assistants.
The other thing is that when we put the computing power on desks, we were able to have office automation. This whole idea of being able to send an e-mail was a major advance. When I started out, we sent interoffice memos; we sent messages overseas via the Defense Department's Autodin, telexes and that type of thing.GCN: What trends, such as the adoption of Extensible Markup Language and Web services, do you see driving the federal government in the near future?
RACHLIN: I think you nailed them. Because of the President's Management Agenda and the emphasis on transforming the way the government operates'to be more citizen-centered, results-oriented, market-based'those are going to be the technologies that drive transformation.GCN: How will the adoption of enterprise architectures change the way IT projects are implemented?
RACHLIN: Enterprise architecture is already a major consideration in the lifecycle of IT projects.
I do think a well-built and maintained architecture will help identify redundancies, collaboration opportunities and inappropriate technical solutions.
As more agencies develop and mature their enterprise architecture, and also when the federal enterprise architecture is completed, using an enterprise architecture to validate IT projects will probably intensify.GCN: How will the changes in OMB Circular A-76, more outsourcing of IT and the use of seat management affect government?
RACHLIN: I have some fairly strong opinions about outsourcing and competitive sourcing.
The government is not in the IT business. We are in the business of serving citizens, making policy and regulation, and enforcing those regulations. So I highly support competitive sourcing.
We need to concentrate on developing good project managers, acquisition specialists and contracting specialists so that we can make sound IT investment decisions and be able to specify and manage IT services that we use to deliver federal programs.GCN: Security for systems continues to change dramatically and pose new problems for IT managers. What did you see as the most important developments during your service?
RACHLIN: I started out some time ago in the Defense Department. Back then, computer operations were primarily what we called 'through the window.' The computers were in a very secure operating environment. Many times they weren't connected to anything, so those were fairly easy to secure.
Contrast that to what we have today; all the desktop PCs, the Web and the demand for wireless communications require a totally different take on IT security. I think IT security was somewhat ignored after the fall of the Warsaw Pact for a while, but we know it is definitely given an increased emphasis now.
The Federal Information Security Management Act of 2002, which mandates that every agency have a senior information security officer, is a really good example of that.GCN: What advice would you give an IT professional beginning a government career?
RACHLIN: Given my strong opinions about competitive sourcing, the advice I would give him would be to concentrate on the basics: IT capital planning, project management, enterprise architecture, and all the pertinent legislation, policies, directives and procedures.
The trend toward outsourcing will demand that career IT professionals be experts in these areas if they aspire to leadership positions.GCN: Having worked in both civilian and military IT assignments, how would you compare their cultures?
RACHLIN: They really are very different. The military community was and still is far more structured than its civilian counterpart.
I can remember well-institutionalized processes when I worked for DOD, and that was over two decades ago. Many civilian organizations still have not implemented some of these processes. Software development is a good example of that.GCN: What policy changes have had the greatest effect on federal IT during your tenure?
RACHLIN: I think the emphasis that this administration and the folks at the Office of Management and Budget are putting on sound IT capital planning and investment, enterprise architecture and security has really changed things. What they are doing basically is using the Clinger-Cohen Act to reform the ways the government manages IT.GCN: What do you plan to do next?
RACHLIN: I plan to take the summer off. I am going to be staying home with our seven-year-old doggie daughter. I want to catch up on some gardening, and I have some interior decorating projects. We have planned a trip to Europe in early September. When I get back, I will think about maybe going back to work in the private sector.