Reflections on government excellence on the anniversary of 9/11


Reflections on government excellence on the anniversary of 9/11

Thursday, September 11th, 2014 - 14:26
Thursday, September 11, 2014 - 14:17
As we pause today to remember the tragic events of Sep 11, 2001, I am reminded of how that event changed so much of our history – including impacting how government moved forward to manage technology and people who care deeply about serving the American people, and working with our international partners to do the same. We learned important lessons on that day, which have carried forward since and will long into the future.

First, a reflection of events from Sep 11, 2001:  I was the career deputy advisor for OMB on IT and E-Government issues.  On that day, our office was working closely with the Council for Excellence in Government (CEG) to host a meeting of international IT leaders – one of the early meetings of CIOs and equivalent executives from multiple countries, done in partnership with CEG (which for many years led government, industry, academia, non-profits, and civil society groups generally on technology and management excellence initiatives).

When the plane hit the Pentagon, OMB quickly evacuated the building, as did much of downtown Washington DC.  I recall with great clarity the thousands of people walking in the street, unsure about where to go, having difficulty reaching their families.

Given our meeting at the CEG, I walked over to their offices on 14th and K Sts, knowing that there might be a need to help the international IT executives get settled on a day that was clearly not going to hold a discussion about cross-border collaboration on e-government.  Once there, I met with CEG leaders, meeting participant and Administration IT advisor Bill Eggers, and Michelle D’Auray, the very effective and influential Canadian CIO – Bill and I walked Michelle to Canada’s embassy on 4th and Pennsylvania, as we all reasoned home embassies were the safest place for our guests to stay that day.

Interestingly, the Canadian embassy is near the Labor Department, and while trying to figure a way home I ran into the CIO for DOL, who explained all of the steps that DOL was taking to ensure continuity of key operations that day and in the days to follow.  And on the next day, OMB’s Mark Forman led a meeting of senior officials to select e-government initiatives for review by the President’s Management Council; among those initiatives, two that clearly emerged as key were Disaster Management – a portal to help emergency responders provide information and collaborate in the event of a crisis – and Project SAFECOM, an initiative to build interoperability into wireless networks used by public safety officials at all levels of government.

Many of us in Washington, and many of our friends and colleagues whose day and lives were changed by the events of that day, could no doubt recount similar narratives.  I share the above both as a reflection of events, but also to note some important elements of those events that continue to inspire leaders who work in and with government to continue carrying our key missions through technology and management excellence.   To indentify just a few of those:

  • While the CEG meeting did not take place that day, the international collaboration among IT leaders across nations has continued and expanded, through North America Day which brings together CIO teams from the US, Canada and Mexico, to OECD meetings of key ministers from dozens of nations, to numerous multilateral and bilateral exchanges led and joined by OMB, GSA, and other key US leaders.
  • Continuity of government has become a major focus of CIO and other key agency teams, led by new programs implemented through DHS -- the agency that of course was created after 9/11 in large part to help protect the country against a broad range of threats, and which has evolved into a strong and mission-oriented provider of services that safeguard Americans every day.
  • Cross-agency e-Government initiatives were codified in the E-Government Act of 2002, and this helped solidify Disaster Management and SAFECOM as well as the programs that they have since evolved into.
  • Although CEG no longer operates, many of its programs to promote government excellence have continued through good government groups like the Partnership for Public Service.  Interestingly, the Partnership and our Center at IBM will soon embark on an initiative to think about how best to carry forward strong management in a way that best serves agency missions; and in an interesting update on my own story from that day, we recently met with Bill Eggers, who is now with Deloitte and still advocating innovative ideas for how government can move forward in the digital age.

We are fortunate to live in a nation that meets crises with resolve and determination to move forward.  We are also fortunate that there are individuals who work in and with government that dedicate their talent and time to promote excellence in government even amidst crises to help Americans, work with our international partners, and continually enhance the effectiveness of their programs and agencies in serving citizens.

Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at