Doing Business with the office of Homeland Security

Steve Cooper bio

Took the job:




Home now:

D.C. area


Married, four daughters

Currently reading:

"Five Frogs on a Log: A CEO's Field Guide to
Accelerating the Transition in Mergers, Acquisitions and
Gut-Wrenching Change" by Mark Feldman and Michael Frederick Spratt

Alma mater: Bachelor of arts from Ohio Wesleyan University. Some graduate work at George Washington University, Washington.

Office of Homeland Security

Address: The White House | (202) 456-1414

Director: Tom Ridge

Founded: Oct. 29, 2001

What it does: The president established the Office of Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Council to coordinate the federal response to terrorism. This office works with state and local governments on, among other things, detection, preparedness, prevention, protection, response and recovery and incident management.

Steve Cooper, CIO, Office of Homeland Security

Anger leads to action

On Sept. 11, 2001, Steve Cooper, then chief information officer for Corning Inc., was speaking at a CIO forum aboard a ship sailing under a British flag in New York harbor. After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Coast Guard asked the ship, because it was under a foreign flag, to go out to open sea. One day and 200 hundred miles later, Cooper and the passengers disembarked in Boston. Angry, Cooper -- who had served in the Navy during the Vietnam era -- tried to figure out what he could do personally to make a difference in the new national situation.

One year later, Cooper is the CIO of the Office of Homeland Security, and although only in the job six months, he and his high-level associates are designing the blueprint for protecting the nation. Cooper recently talked with Managing Editor Evamarie Socha about his job as CIO and the administration's efforts to pull together the technology side of homeland security.

WT: How did you come into this job?

Cooper: [I had some] conversations with some folks that I know in Washington, and particularly with [Rep.] Amo Houghton [R-N.Y.] who is my congressman and a very good friend. Amo introduced me to Gov. [Tom] Ridge. That was the path by which I came to join the Office of Homeland Security and the White House.

WT: What did they tell you they were looking for in this position? Did they even have an idea at that point?

Cooper: No, they really didn't. There were probably about 50 to 60 people in the office. I made some suggestions and recommendations about what I thought I could contribute and what we might want to consider. ... There also was work done previously, guided by folks, in particular Harold Kuntz and Neil Patel, who are with the Office of the Vice President. They had done excellent work in guiding objectives and what needed to be done in the information integration area.

They framed the challenges, but they weren't exactly certain how to move forward.

WT: How is being CIO for an organization more concerned with policy different than the role of CIO at other agencies, or even in the private sector?

Cooper: I don't have to worry about operational activities. I don't really have any people or assets ... to worry about. That's not part of my job. That's a tremendous luxury, because normally that's a considerable amount of an agency CIO's job. It frees me up to focus more on strategy and policy, and almost 100 percent of what I'm trying to do is focused on what would normally comprise only about 10 percent or 15 percent of a CIO's job.

WT: When you started, what did you see as your first order of business?

Cooper: To very quickly get a handle around the work that had been done, to introduce myself and to meet key people in the agencies and across government whose counsel I needed, and whose advice I needed, and whose problems were really the ones we needed to address. ...

I spent the first three to four months trying to meet as many people as I could and quickly absorb what they were telling me, so we could paint a big picture of the current state. We've done a reasonably good job of that. It's not complete, it's going to take us a little more time, and the good news is that we've been able to detail people in from other agencies to help us.

WT: Do you think that we, as a country, are safer today than a year ago?

Cooper: Yes. There are some positive, tangible things that have been done that have filled some of the gaps. We have not filled them all. There is more work to do. The fact we're much more aware as a nation is a considerably better situation than we were on Sept. 10 [2001]. We're better off simply because we're more aware. Even if we did nothing different, we'd be a little bit better off.

We've created some pathways to share information electronically that didn't exist before. We have begun work and are reasonably far along in the construction of a national enterprise architecture for homeland security, which enables us to understand the business processes that are needed to secure the homeland.

The major process areas of homeland security are prevention, detection, and alerts and warnings. Think of the national weather warning system, such as tornado watches and alerts. It is a similar thing for threat readiness. So if there is an incident, we have the processes around response and recovery.

In constructing a national enterprise architecture, what we want to do is understand those processes and who has responsibility and accountability in each of those areas. We want to understand the information needed for those processes to be carried out successfully.

WT: Is there any other thing in particular you have as a goal in this office?

Cooper: All good things come to an end, and at some point in time, somebody is going to say thank you very much. When that comes, my personal goal is to be able to look back and have added value. And if that is the case, and I haven't bent too many people out of shape, then I'll have considered it a lot of fun and an honor and a privilege, and I'll feel pretty good about having been part of history, literally.

Within that ... I have a set of priorities that are guided by Gov. Ridge, and he obviously gets his direction from the president; so yes, there are a whole series of goals and objectives that we have prioritized.

WT: With the anniversary of Sept. 11, how does it feel to be living in the DC area?

Cooper: First it's returning home for me, which always feels good. But I'm in and out of the Pentagon on a regular basis, and to watch what has happened in the time that I've been back and entering the physical structure is phenomenal.

What is more important is one of the strengths of our country: Our amazing resiliency we have to bounce back from tragedy and disaster. We were vulnerable, we were violated. It didn't feel good. If you think in terms of how we came back and how we are now vs. a year ago, I would say the country has moved forward, and that it will always continue to move forward.

That is what's remarkable, and you're just a little closer to it when you're back in Washington.

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