- September 1, 2011
Conventional wisdom on security, the costs of war and the longest-serving CIO.
Ten years after the Sept. 11 attacks, it's natural to ask, "Is the country better prepared now than it was then to prevent and respond to disaster?" Yes, says Barry Dorn, co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a joint program of Harvard University's School of Public Health and the John F. Kennedy School of Government. For the past eight years, Dorn's program has brought together federal, state and local government officials and agencies to share leadership lessons learned during crises ranging from the H1N1 flu pandemic a few years ago to the devastating tsunami in Japan earlier this year.
The upcoming presidential political conventions have provided another opportunity for preparedness. The organization recently held a seminar in Tampa, Fla., to help local governments get ready for the 2012 Republican National Convention, and Dorn expects they'll do something similar in Charlotte, N.C., the site of the Democratic powwow. The Harvard program, which targets high-ranking career civil servants, seeks to educate government officials across the country on effective leadership during disasters using a simple framework as the foundation of its curriculum. Part of that framework involves managing up and down (leading vertically) and managing across silos (leading horizontally). Those concepts are very familiar to government employees, particularly those with roles in disaster management.
Dorn, an orthopedic surgeon by training, says public servants are devoted to getting the job done, an opinion he did not have when he started at the preparedness program. "I didn't have a great respect for government workers in the beginning," he admits. "I have the greatest respect for government workers now."
Medicine on the Move
The National Museum of Health and Medicine's move from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington to Fort Detrick's Forest Glen Annex in Silver Spring, Md., in September entails the delicate transport of millions of precious artifacts, such as the bullet that killed President Abraham Lincoln and the shattered leg bone of the notorious Civil War Gen. Daniel Edgar Sickles wounded by cannon fire.
Vance Hitch, government's longest-serving chief information officer, who recently retired from the Justice Department, says the memory of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks kept him in the job-a post most managers vacate after two years.
"It was because of 9/11" that Hitch, who departed in July, joined Justice in spring 2002 and stayed there almost until the 10-year anniversary of the attacks, he says. Hitch had worked at the World Trade Center only a year before terrorists destroyed the landmark.
"I was drawn to the department because I care about its mission," he says. "You can easily get caught up in day-to-day issues."
The past decade has not been without frustrations-a long-delayed FBI case management system for one-but Hitch says he always found motivation in the pursuit of public safety.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, he has helped government officials organize a slew of acronyms that translate to sophisticated information sharing. Notably, the Law Enforcement Information Sharing Program-LEISP-has allowed Justice to electronically circulate criminal and counterterrorism tips among states, local governments and federal agencies.
In addition to trafficking information, Hitch's team focused on protecting it-ultimately propping up a 24-7 network surveillance hub that scans for vulnerabilities and coordinates with other agencies to defend critical data. Hitch says there's never a good time to go, but he's ready for some rest and relaxation. He plans to spend much of the respite at his beach house in Stone Harbor, N.J., after dedicating nearly three decades of his life to steering programs at all levels of government.
-Aliya SternsteinCorrection: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the National Museum of Health and Medicine moved to Fort Detrick, Md., and should have said Fort Detrick's Forest Glen Annex in Silver Spring. The story has been corrected.