New frontiers

GCN Civilian IT Executive of the Year Molly O'Neill blazes a path to wiki government that others can follow

Molly O'Neill likes to take risks.

When the Environmental Protection Agency's chief information
officer was planning the Puget Sound Information
Challenge in November 2007, she decided do something
edgy: set up a wiki that would let participants in the
national environmental symposium exchange ideas and

'It was a risky decision because we weren't really ready,
and we hadn't told anybody about it,' she said. 'I didn't
just want to talk about doing wikis at the agency. I'm the
type who likes to learn by doing.'

A few weeks before the event, she conferred with former
EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus, chairman of the
Puget Sound Partnership's Leadership Council. He agreed
that it would be an innovative way to generate information
and that it was worth the gamble, O'Neill said.

They decided: 'Let's just do it.'

The wiki experiment proved to be wildly successful.
'There was a lot of buzz, and it was pretty amazing to see
the contributions coming in,' O'Neill said.

It also helped put EPA on the Web 2.0 cutting edge. 'I
hope that EPA has pushed other folks in the federal government
to think, 'If the EPA can do that, why can't we?' '
she said. Since the Puget Sound event, EPA has established
a wiki infrastructure ' what O'Neill calls a sandbox
of Web 2.0 tools ' so that EPA organizations and constituents
can exchange data across the agency.

O'Neill's ventures into Web 2.0 technologies are not
going unnoticed. 'Molly has really stepped out there,' said
Karen Evans, administrator for e-government and information
technology at the Office of Management and Budget.
'Molly has provided leadership on infusing new technologies'
and involving communities of interest so you
get a better solution,' Evans said. 'She really and truly is a
leader among the CIOs.'

O'Neill's penchant for risk-taking doesn't mean she is impetuous.
She knows there's more to Web 2.0 in government
than simply deploying technologies ' there has to be a policy
framework. 'I think that we need to look at the policies
around [Web 2.0] so that it's accepted,' she said. 'It's not just
putting out the tools, finding the right projects to use these
tools and [stirring] enthusiasm. It's also about preparing forpotential roadblocks by looking at the policy issues.'

That acumen brought O'Neill to EPA as a political appointee,
confirmed by the Senate in December 2006. She had worked
in the nonprofit and private sectors, where she held leadership
positions that blended environmental and technology issues.
She had been state director of the National Environmental Information
Exchange at the Environmental Council of the
States before joining EPA. O'Neill and the CIO job were a perfect

Becoming EPA's CIO 'was an ideal job because I've spent my
entire career focusing on environment, health and safety issues
and the last 10 to 15 years working on technology issues,' said
O'Neill, a Virginia Tech graduate. 'Can you imagine for someone
of my background to have the opportunity to have some
kind of effect on all the things I'm passionate about? It's pretty

There was also the lure of government service. 'I think it's really
important for everyone to do some kind of service,' she
said. 'This was an opportunity for me to do that, and I can continue
to be excited about it.'

O'Neill's job as CIO combines technology and the transformation
effort, another big plus for her. 'I don't have just the
wires on boxes,' she said. 'I actually have some programs. I can
concentrate on the areas I'm passionate about and where I
want to see transformation. I do know that's a strength of mine
' helping people figure out where we need to go.'


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