What's Brewin: Building a deep leadership bench

The Army Knowledge Leaders Program develops bench strength to replace outgoing baby boomers.

Baby boomers who populate the top federal management ranks have started to retire, and to fill the leadership gap the Army's Office of the Chief Information Officer kicked off a unique program in 2001 to ensure that it has new leaders ready to step in. It's called the Army Knowledge Leaders Program.

Comment on this article in The Forum.Thaddeus "Ted" Dmuchowski, who has the very long title of acting principal director, governance, acquisition and chief knowledge office at the Army CIO/G6, (and yes, it all fits on a business card) told me that the program has worked so well that this year's incoming class will double from six to 12.

The program offers an "accelerated promotion path" for college graduates who enter at the GS-7 rank and can zoom on to the GS-12 grade after completing the two-year program and a one-year permanent assignment. The goal, Dmuchowski said, is to develop a tech-savvy corps of leaders who can fill the top GS and SES ranks.

But these future leaders -- most of whom have computer science or information technology degrees -- also need to learn about Army culture and business etiquette, which is far different from what exists on college campuses, Dmuchowski said. So the first month of the program amounts to an Army 101 course on how the service operates. That includes important etiquette points, such as standing when a senior officer enters a room -- something not found in most university curricula.

After the abbreviated boot camp, the Army assigns the knowledge leaders to teams within their organizations, Dmuchowski said. They work on projects ranging from portfolio management, acquisition policy to business systems management. They are closely supervised and mentored.

Dmuchowski emphasized that these students are quickly immersed at the highest department level, another plus for interested candidates. They can choose assignments outside the Washington metropolitan area as well, which helps broaden their knowledge of the Army, he said.

The current crop of future leaders aren't just learning but they also are teaching the CIO organization, Dmuchowski said. They have been tapped to help integrate the Web technologies they grew up with -- such as blogs, wikis and social-networking sites -- into the CIO culture and organization.

But once these future leaders are trained, how does the Army CIO shop keep them, especially in the Washington area where contractors often poach federal workers with offers of lavish salaries. "We tell them it's not all about money, and they can have a higher mission to serve the men and women of the Army," Dmuchowski said.

Service and a higher calling might seem like an old-fashioned pitch in an era obsessed with money, but so far it's working, he said. The program has put 32 folks through its course in the past seven years, and only two have left for industry.

The PowerPoint Course

Since it seems that anyone who wants a leadership position in the Army must master PowerPoint presentations, I asked Dmuchowski if PowerPoint courses are part of the training.

He surprised me with his answer. Yes. Future knowledge leaders are trained in how to create and give PowerPoint presentations. That includes compliance with Army Chief of Staff guidance that says slides should have few words and the number of slides should be limited to the amount needed to get the point across, Dmuchowski said.

This must be the most widely ignored guidance in the Army. I recently sat through back-to-back presentations from a couple of folks at the Army CIO office, whom I will not identify, that I swear ran longer than "Gone With the Wind."

Hand-Held Computer Security Problem Solved?

To access a Defense Department network, a user must have a Common Access Card (CAC) for identity authentication, and operation over Wi-Fi networks requires a validated strong encryption system that conforms to the National Institute of Standards and Technology's FIPS 140-2 standard.

Defense logistics organizations have had a hard time fielding handheld computers -- particularly bar code scanners used to track supplies -- that meet these requirements, due to a number of problems, including the scanners' limited memory. But the Army Materiel Command has solved the problem with an innovative solution being tested at the Corpus Christi Army depot in Texas, the Army's main helicopter maintenance faculty.

The system, I'm told, consists of an Apriva Bluetooth short-range wireless CAC reader hooked up to a Motorola 9090 handheld bar code reader, which has a Bluetooth radio and a Wi-Fi radio. In the test, the 9090 sends data to a hard-wired Defense network server with wireless gear from Aruba Networks.

None of the companies above wanted to talk to me for obvious reasons, but I did manage to gain insight into a slice of this project and its potential from Edwin Cowart, a systems engineering manager at Juniper Networks, which has supplied its Odyssey FIPS 140-2 client to secure the bar-code Wi-Fi network.

It's not hard to add a FIPS 140-2 client to a laptop computer, which has gigabytes of memory, but it's tougher with the 9090, which has only 64 megs of memory, much of which is used for the Microsoft Mobile operating system. But, Cowart said, Juniper managed to stuff all the required FIPS 140-2 functionality into a small data store and is the only company to do so, as far as he knows.

I'm told that this secure handheld reader system has attracted wide interest not just at the Army Materiel Command, but across Defense, including the Defense Logistics Agency and the U.S. Transportation Command, which manages radio frequency identification tag projects that track supplies globally.

Though the test is focused on bar-code scanning, I'll bet the ultimate goal of the project is focused on RFID. That would be easy to do, because Motorola makes an RFID reader version of the 9090.

I'm told that Motorola is the only bar code manufacturer to come so far in meeting Defense requirements for secure, CAC-authenticated handhelds, which means they could pick up a lot of business in the future.

Grumpy at VA

Charlie De Sanno, executive director of VA's Office of Enterprise Infrastructure Engineering, is in love with VA's plan to centralize all IT operations. But based on my e-mail, workers in the field are grumpy about this approach.

The marvels of centralization, many say, means that if hospital docs need some IT help, they must place a call to "central," miles and many times zones away. The doc then waits for hours sitting in front of a dead PC until a tech -- who works in the same building -- shows up to fix the problem.

I'm having a hard time with this concept -- but then, again, I was only a Marine corporal.

Welcome (Almost) Home, Dave

My good friend Navy Capt. Dave Wray, whom I featured in my Christmas column, left Iraq at the end of his second tour for a week of decompression in Kuwait before heading to his home in Front Royal, Va.

Navy guys who end up serving on the ground with a bunch of Army folks are issued lots of stuff you would never need on a ship, such as entrenching tools. In an e-mail to me, Dave seemed rather wistful that he had to turn in his e-tool, so I intend to buy him one as a welcome home present.

Thanks for the service, Dave.