On Thanksgiving, fed IT leaders count their blessings

We asked your colleagues what they're thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is just a few days ahead, and around the Washington D.C. area, the season is just right. The trees are resplendent in gold and rust colors, smoke from wood-burning fireplaces occasionally wafts by and talk of snowfall soon doesn’t seem farfetched.

It’s a day for gratitude and family, but there are things to be thankful for on the job as well. We asked some of our readers to share their thoughts as the day approaches.

Former Defense Department CIO Dave Wennergren has never been shy about voicing his gratitude, especially when it comes to the teams he has worked with over the years in the Pentagon and in five years as the vice chairman of the federal CIO Council. As he transitions into his new role as assistant deputy chief management officer at the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense, Wennergren said it's his co-workers throughout his career of public service that he is most grateful for.
"I am deeply thankful for the people with whom I have shared this work journey," Wennergren said. "I have been blessed to work with truly outstanding women and men who have chosen careers of service and sacrifice and who are making a big difference every day."
According to Wennergren, it's his colleagues who drive him to push for innovation in federal government.
"They inspire me, and I am a better person because of all they have taught me and I am grateful for their enduring friendship," he said.

“Every time I watch a movie made before oh, say 1995, I’m thankful for the federal government’s original creation of the Internet and the fact that, back in the 1950s and going well into the 1970s, it was the government that drove the development of computers,” said Mark Kagan, director of research at Keane Federal Systems.

“Civilization as we now know it would be impossible and only imaginable in science fiction books, TV and cinema. Without those developments — which were started and funded with federal dollars and often nurtured in government labs — the government would need five times as many people as it now employs (including contractors) to do 20 percent of what it now does, and not as well.”

Kagan recalled getting a jolt recently when watching an episode of “Mad Men,” a current TV show set in the 1960s. “One of the characters, Roger, was supposedly calling the New York office from North Carolina to tell his partners that he hadn’t been able to win back a critical account. In fact, he had never gone — and he was calling from a hotel room in Manhattan pretending he was in North Carolina,” Kagan said. “I confess that for a second I thought, ‘Wait, they can see it on Caller ID,’ and then, ‘Wait, it’s 1965,’ and gave myself a mental shake.”

Heather Coleman, SharePoint content manager and social media specialist with the Army Contracting Command, said GovLoop, the social media community for feds, is something to be grateful for.

“I first learned about and joined GovLoop in early 2009, after a referral from a colleague. I instantly found the perfect blend of three passions of mine: government, social media and technology,” she said. “Every time I log in to GovLoop I know I will find an answer to a problem I'm facing, an innovative new idea being used by another agency and most importantly, a new connection to someone that truly understands what I'm facing on a daily basis. Where else can I advertise that I'm at a complete loss because my government client needs me to overhaul a site using Plumtree software, receive several insightful responses and within a day or two be talking by phone to a potential partner? The Knowledge Management in Government group on GovLoop, that's where.”

Ashley Washington, Army blog manager and social media specialist, said she is grateful for the IT personnel who created the "FB Share" and "Retweet" widgets for the ArmyLive blog.

“While blogs are very important to the social media world, it can be really hard to promote them due to the tendency for blogs to be more in-depth in nature,” she said. “The blog audience tends to be a niche audience of those who want more ‘meat and potatoes’ of a particular Army concept or program. With the widget, this allows for those persons to share the posts and stories to others who may have not ventured to the blog to find them on their own. Now while this may be a small feat to some, I am thankful for it.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Indonesia collaborated on a joint expedition to the Coral Triangle in the Sulawesi Sea this summer, and used remotely operated deep sea vehicles to produce high definition video, the images were streamed in real time over the telepresence network linking the Okeanos Explorer to command centers staffed with U.S. and Indonesian scientists in Jakarta and Seattle.

Fred Gorell, a public affairs officer at NOAA, said that expedition was something to be thankful for. "You couldn't have gotten better images in a photo studio," he said.

Linton Wells, director of the Center for Technology and National Security Policy and a distinguished research professor at the National Defense University (NDU) said he is thankful for the Transformative Innovation for Development and Emergency Support (TIDES) project.

TIDES is an NDU research project to promote a variety of sustainable technologies to support stressed populations in post-war, post-disaster or impoverished situations. “For me, it’s refreshing to see the Defense Department engage on a project like this, [something] that’s not the traditional role of research, but directly applies to the emphasis on building partner-nation capacity and anticipating trying to prevent wars by reducing stress situations,” he said. “TIDES is an example of something I’d be thankful for.”

Dawn Leaf, senior executive for cloud computing at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, expressed gratitude for the progress of her field. "This has been a great year for cloud computing standards development," she said. "The cloud computing community has come forward and is willing to engage with NIST in the task of productive evolution of cloud computing standards by filling our workshops and forums to capacity and providing valuable insight on our working documents. This input has allowed NIST develop its project to enable interoperable cloud computing before finalized standards are approved."

Deven McGraw, director of the Health Privacy Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said the “blue button,” a one-click application that the Veterans Affairs department, Tricare and Medicare have implemented is something to be thankful for. It allows veterans, and military families and Medicare beneficiaries to easily and safely download an electronic version of their personal health information.  

“I’m thankful for the advancements in technology that makes teleworking more user friendly, stable and allows me full access to my work,” said Larry Orluskie, director of communications for the Homeland Security department.

Charles Paidock, vice president of the Great Lakes region of the National Federation of Federal Employees, turned his thoughts to the workforce. “I am thankful that no one has gotten into trouble for using social media, yet, for posting candid opinions,” he said.

Darren Ash, CIO of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, expressed gratitude for his employees, who are “an incredibly talented group of IT professionals across the agency.”

“I am thankful we have an active social network leveraging collective intelligence to solve government's grand challenges,” said Eric Hackathorn, virtual worlds program manager at NOAA. “In addition, I am thankful for scalable cloud infrastructure to support their communication.”

"I am thankful for the opportunity to serve and hopefully make a difference," said Charles Piercy, assistant archivist, Office of Information Services, and actomg CIO at the National Archives and Records Administration.