Dec 31 2009

Capital Makeover

The Senate's first-ever CIO embarks on a two-year roadmap to raise the level and awareness of technology in the Senate.

When Sen. David Pryor
(D-Ark.) set up shop
in 1979, a technically
savvy staff member
stocked his office
with state-of-the-art
tools. However, the
office of the state's senior senator, Dale
Bumpers, seemed stuck in the Dark Ages.

"It shouldn't be that way," says Sen.
Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who followed in his
father's footsteps after his election to the
U.S. Senate in 2003. Each senator should
have access to technology, regardless of the
skill level of his staff, Pryor points out.

That's where J. Greg Hanson comes in.
In June 2003, Hanson signed on as the
Senate's first-ever CIO. His mission: to
ensure that the 100 senators, 38
committees and their staffs—about 10,000
employees—have reliable, state-of-the-art
technology at their disposal on Capitol Hill
and in their state offices. To that end, Hanson has embarked on a two-year
technology strategic plan that has already
been put to the test by challenges such as
virus outbreaks, hacker attempts and
February's ricin attack, which forced
senators to evacuate their offices for days.

Hanson, whose title also includes
assistant sergeant at arms, was hired by Bill
Pickle, Senate sergeant at arms. Pickle,
along with the Senate leadership, wanted a
CIO to raise the level and awareness of
technology in the Senate, with an emphasis
on security and customer service.

"Technology is one of the primary forces
behind any modern economy," says Senate
Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). "We've
already seen how innovation is contributing
to advances in medicine, education and
industry across the nation. Supporting the
use of new technologies in Congress and
the Senate will improve the overall
workings of our nation's government."

Working with technology teams in
each senator's and committee's office,
Hanson's staff is responsible for 12,000
computers, 450 servers and, Hanson
adds wryly, "at least one of just about
everything." But a large part of his job
is selling the concept of emerging
technology to the Senate ranks.

"We have to look for efficiency gains
and effectiveness gains," the CIO points
out. "I call that little e and big E. Efficiency
is little e. That's doing the same stuff I do
now, but doing more of it. That's nice, but
big E is what I really strive for, and that's
effectiveness. That's allowing the Senate to
do things they couldn't do before or to do
things in a new way."

Bridging the Disconnect

When Hanson started as CIO, the buzz
around the building was that the existing
technology was antiquated. "I wanted to
check into that," he recalls. "When I
came here, I found that the technology
was very good, but I'm [still] hearing
some of my customers asking why
the technology's not state-of-the-art. So
there's a disconnect here."

One of Hanson's first tasks was to
conduct what he believes was the
Senate's first comprehensive technology
customer satisfaction survey. Asked for
specifics about their impressions of the
infrastructure, most employees were
generally satisfied with the level of
technology and support, Hanson says.
"The areas where customers said we
needed to improve were in rolling out
new technology and rolling it out
faster," he adds.

Hanson compiled a booklet listing all
technology used by the Senate and the
state-of-the-art tools in those categories. In
most fields, he was able to show his
customers how advanced the Senate's
technology is. He began publishing a
newsletter every six weeks detailing
technology initiatives, such as the Active
Directory implementation now under way.

In February, Hanson held an onsite
emerging technology conference and fair.
This event gave Senate employees the
opportunity to test small, inexpensive
tools that would be available to them
within the next year and a half.

But Hanson hasn't spent his first year
on the job just talking. He's been busy
leading the new Active Directory and
messaging architecture project, a
migration from Lotus cc:Mail to Microsoft
Exchange, the move to more Web
applications and the installation of a new
wireless infrastructure to enable all Senate
offices to support wireless communications.

Hanson's team has made desktop
news feeds, video teleconferencing
equipment and dual BlackBerry/mobile
phones available to Senate offices. The
team also developed a new office
emergency coordinator check-in system.

February's ricin incident clearly
illuminated one of Hanson's major
priorities: continuity of operations.
"We want to be able to compute from
anywhere at any time under any
circumstances," he says. Moving data and
applications to the Web, developing a
backup computing facility and supplying
Senate staff with communications tools
have gone a long way toward achieving
that goal.

Hanson also created a new position
in his office. When he came on board,
he had both a director of system
development and a director of system
support, and he felt the organization
excelled in both areas. But a third team
was needed to examine how technology
processes, such as virus patch
management, were handled and to
determine how they could be done better.

To accomplish that, Hanson hired a
director of process improvement and
innovation. That team evaluates new
technologies and works on prototypes and
rapid application development "so we can
incubate and infuse new ideas," he says.

The first iteration of Hanson's
two-year rolling technology roadmap is
scheduled for completion by fall and
includes a half-dozen strategic initiatives
that affect the Senate leadership's
priorities of security and customer
service. "But it's never complete," he
says, so the roadmap will be reviewed
and updated annually.

It won't be a big, complex plan either,
Hanson adds. "I want it to be small, I
want it to be crisp, and I want it to be
something we can quickly take action
on," he says. "I like to think big, start
small and scale fast."


If there's one thing the U.S. Senate's
first CIO J. Greg Hanson knows, it's
how to work within a hierarchy.

Of course, he didn't acquire the
skills overnight; he's had a CXO-level
Air Force career and served stints as
chief technology officer at Telos and
Universal Systems and Technology to
study the process.

In the Air Force, Hanson says, "You
know who's in command, and they
have a vision, a mission and a
management team. That gets
translated down to the troops, and
the troops all work together to
accomplish the mission and the
vision—and you win.

"Here it's different," he continues.

"Here there are 138 different CEOs
[senators and committees], and they
all have their own vision and mission
strategy. I have to work with and
accommodate each of them as though
I'm dedicated to them, but I also have
to provide a common infrastructure
for all of them to work on. That
makes for an interesting challenge."

By interesting, Hanson means
exciting. "Every morning I wake up
with a big smile on my face, happy to
come here," he says.

The word around the Senate is that
Hanson's pulling it off. "I've heard
universally good things about Greg
Hanson," says Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), attributing those "good things"
to Hanson's emphasis on customer
service. Hanson recognizes that each
Senate office has unique needs, and
he addresses those needs with
appropriate technology, Pryor adds.

"You need a CIO because, as a
society, we put such an emphasis on
technology," Pryor says. "I think we
have pretty much state-of-the-art or
near-state-of-the-art technology."

Compared with what he saw
during other contract assignments
at federal organizations, technology
in the Senate is quite advanced,
reports Kevin Lewis, systems
administrator for Sen. Frank R.
Lautenberg (D-N.J.).

Lautenberg's office recently got
two new videoconferencing plasma
TVs as well as a Snap Server, a
portable device that connects to the
main server to back up data from
employees' personal drives and the
office's shared drive. "In case of
something like anthrax, one of these
is kept offsite so we always have the
most current data," Lewis explains.

Reaching Out With Support

Before Hanson's arrival, a sense of
contention was palpable between the
senators' systems administrators and
the central technology staff in the
office of the Sergeant at Arms, Lewis
says. But Hanson has addressed that
by boosting support, improving his
staff's technical skills and reaching
out to the Senate staff.

When Lewis was first hired, a few
months before Hanson, his Macintosh
skills were weak, but his office had a
few Apples that required support.
At the time, the Sergeant at Arms'
technology team didn't provide a lot
of assistance. But Hanson has made
sure that the Macs are supported,
Lewis says.

Hanson says his ability to see all
sides of a situation and to develop
and maintain an amicable working
relationship with everyone involved
was honed during an Air Force
assignment at NATO. That organization,
like the Senate, is an alliance of
individual entities with different ideas
and agendas.

But whether it's his public or
private sector experience that better
prepared him for his current role is a
toss-up, Hanson says. The Air Force
taught him leadership and teamwork,
but the private sector prepared him to
develop and carry out a technology
roadmap, focus on profits and growth,
and satisfy the customer.

Skills from both areas are critical,
according to Hanson. "In the public
sector, if your customers aren't happy,
you won't survive," he cautions.


IT staff members at the U.S. Senate have clear technology priorities
mapped for the next two years, according to J. Greg Hanson, assistant
sergeant at arms and Senate CIO. The priorities include:

• Implement an Active Directory and messaging architecture.

• Develop a telecommunications modernization plan that will
anticipate the continued convergence of computers, phones and
teleconferencing over the next several years.

• Improve emergency communications, such as wireless handheld

• Keep up with the latest security technologies.

• Move intelligence to the Web for more flexible and accessible
knowledge management.

• Add to the new video teleconferencing equipment being installed
in Senate offices.