Course Correction

Career highlights: TONY CICCO, GAO

1975: Joined GAO as an auditor and technical support specialist.

1983: Moved to Washington to work on big-budget and sensitive IT reviews for the Social Security Administration, FBI and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service.

1990: Moved to GAO's IT operations to help implement fully integrated and distributed network. Led the creation of a data network architecture plan for implementing network protocols, and the logical and physical design of GAO's wide and local area networks.

1996: Detailed to the International Monetary Fund to provide technical guidance to the People's Bank of China in the design and deployment of their nationwide data communications network.

1999: Named GAO's CIO.

Tony Cicco, GAO

Rick Steele

Tony Cicco tuned his management style and helped turn around GAO's IT shop

Everything Anthony Cicco Jr. needed to know about managing people he learned from cleaning the computer room.

When the Government Accountability Office CIO first joined the Air Force in the early 1970s, he and his fellow cadets wanted to impress his officer in charge by 'GI-ing the computer room.'

'We would scrub and wax the floors over the weekend so when our officer came in Monday, he would see it done and be proud of us for not having to ask us,' Cicco said. 'That officer and several others instilled the value of motivation into us. We wanted to come to work and clean the computer room because we cared about our jobs.'

Those youthful lessons help Cicco manage the technology infrastructure used by 3,200 employees in offices from Washington to Huntsville, Ala., to Denver to Seattle.

Cicco is responsible for a network used to analyze data on nearly every subject imaginable, support reviews of large procurements such as weapons systems and manage the risks of GAO auditors working remotely.

All of this is done with a staff of 87 full-time GAO IT employees and about 200 contractor staff members, most of them from Lockheed Martin Corp. and SRA International Inc. of Arlington, Va. And on an IT budget of $46 million in fiscal 2005.

'We put in a lot of hours so there is minimal disruption to our customers,' he said. 'At GAO, I realized people get the job done, and sometimes we don't necessarily put time and resources into the people like we should. I've found that motivating the staff to get on board with the values of the organization has drastically improved our support.'

Cicco had a lot of improvement to take on when he became CIO in 1999. GAO employees consistently rated the IT shop's customer service as poor'between 40 percent and 50 percent of those surveyed said IT was the agency's most significant support problem. The network infrastructure also was fraught with problems such as disparate computing platforms, unreliable Internet connections and firewall protection and old e-mail programs.

'We were everyone's big problem and we got in the way of everyone doing work,' said John Regan, GAO's chief architect. 'Tony came down on us like a ton of bricks. He didn't trust the staff to do it right the first time.'

New direction

But as the customer support improved and the network evolved, Cicco changed his management style. He stopped berating people in public and micromanaging every project. Cicco developed a management style that focuses on listening, communicating and giving employees the freedom to come up with ways to solve their problems.

Cicco said he went to a leadership course and that helped him recognize his style could be overwhelming and intimidating.

In many ways, he became the 'new' Tony.

'I've never seen anyone make such a huge lifestyle change like he did,' Regan said. 'Tony realized he was part of the problem.'

And as his management style changed, the customer feedback also improved. In the latest survey, GAO employees gave IT support a 90 percent approval rating.

'Many times GAO employees were not given priority from IT support services and Tony completely turned it around,' said Gene Dodaro, GAO chief operating officer. 'He inculcated a sense of customer service into the IT staff and changed the culture to focus on results.'

Dodaro added that Cicco balances the vision of the IT organization against the broad perspective of meeting mission needs immediately'something many leaders do not have.

'Usually you have people who are stronger in one area than the other,' he said. 'Tony is strong on both aspects and that is what makes him a unique leader.'

Regan and others underscore Cicco's accessibility and overall knowledge of technology and GAO issues.

Attention to details

'He has unbelievable energy and is a quick study,' Regan said. 'You can walk into his office at any time and talk about any project, and he will know exactly what is going on.'

Cicco's personal transformation also included forming an employee advisory group, a monthly project meeting and an informal discussion with project managers every two weeks as a way to keep on top of what is going on without being overbearing. He tracks project milestones and budgets, and offers advice when needed.

'Tony believes very strongly in transparency, and holds high standards,' said Sallyanne Harper, GAO's chief financial officer and chief administrative officer. 'He is a firm taskmaster. He brings a passion to his work and he communicates that not just to his staff but also his office's clients.'

Harper added that Cicco's passion comes from being an auditor for 15 years and understanding both the agency's business processes and the technical architecture.

These skills have come in handy when GAO developed an online time and attendance system and a host of auditor's tools.

'We work with Tony and not for Tony,' Regan said. 'He listens and sees all sides of the issue.'

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