Forman Speaks Out - InformationWeek
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10/1/2003
01:29 PM
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Forman Speaks Out

The government's first E-administrator, now a VP at startup Cassatt Corp., tells InformationWeek how the government's IT operations have progressed and why he went to a startup.

Mark Forman, as the top IT executive in the federal government for more than two years, often said that government needed to emulate business as it tried to catch up in the use of technology to meet the needs of its various constituents.

Ending a self-imposed seven-week silence since stepping down as the federal government's first E-administrator in mid-August, Forman says the government has not only met but in many instances has surpassed most businesses in developing an enterprise architecture aimed at simplifying computing in large organizations. "The federal government isn't two years behind business any more," says Forman, who has joined Cassatt Corp., an enterprise software startup, as executive VP of worldwide services.

Forman's remarks came in a wide-ranging telephone interview Tuesday from his new office in Menlo Park, Calif., in which he addressed not only advances in government IT, but congressional failure to fully fund Bush administration E-government initiatives, the departure of other key government IT leaders, and why he joined Cassatt.

In terms of deploying Web services, Forman says the federal government's efforts are on par with 70% to 80% of corporate IT organizations, trailing only the 5% to 10% of top-tier IT users in corporate America. He cites the government geospatial portal, Geodata.gov, as a leading-edge example of Web services.

In implementing IT security, Forman contends that the federal government is way ahead of most companies. "The federal government has put in place a real, defined process that you find in only a few companies," he says. "Most companies aren't doing annual gap analysis."

The failure of Congress to fully fund the administration's E-government initiatives he championed as the government's CIO has proven to be advantageous. "One of the well-kept secrets on the E-government initiatives is that by not centralizing funding, Congress made it easier to drive cooperation among the agencies," he says. "You can't have any better tool to manage change to drive consolidation than people giving money to consolidate. That was helpful."

Forman says he doesn't know if a brain drain is occurring in the federal government, but he's not too worried. Soon after Forman's departure, Norman Lorentz, the Office of Management and Budget's chief technology officer and acting E-administrator, announced his resignation to return to the private sector. In recent months, some key IT managers--including several that oversee E-government initiatives--have left. "I have a theory about Washington: People jump in to fill a vacuum," Forman says. He notes his replacement as E-government administrator, former Energy Department CIO Karen Evans, has been working on E-government initiatives since the Clinton administration, when, as an IT executive at the Justice Department, she helped standardize grant-management applications. "We developed a team, a culture, so that when a leader leaves, new folks come in who can take over," he says.

Forman says his departure had nothing to do with the resignation months earlier of his boss, then-OMB director Mitch Daniel, who left to run for governor of Indiana. Yet, when Daniel announced his resignation, unsolicited job offers began cascading to Forman on the assumption he, too, was ready to leave. "When Mitch announced he was leaving, I went to one dinner, and I felt that I had a 'For Sale' sign on my head," Forman recalls.

The reason Forman, 45, gave for his resignation was that he needed to earn more than the $142,500 a year he made as E-administrator. He wouldn't say how much Cassatt is paying him.

Cassatt CEO Bill Coleman approached Forman early this summer. As the government's top IT executive, Forman had tried to recruit Coleman, former CEO at BEA Systems Inc., for a White House IT policy job. Forman wasn't successful in his recruitment effort, but Coleman turned the tables on the E-administrator, and the two began discussing Forman joining Cassatt.

Cassatt will offer products and services surrounding autonomic computing that let enterprise systems configure themselves to changing conditions and are self-healing in the event of a failure.

Why Cassatt, a Silicon Valley startup, and not some other company? Autonomic computing is closely tied to enterprise component-based architecture, something Forman has advocated as a government official and as an executive at IBM and Unisys, where he worked earlier in his career. He says he could use his expertise while broadening his horizons beyond government to help develop a product that could help many types of organizations.

Forman says Cassatt will target the government market, but as executive VP for worldwide services, he'll be less involved in selling than in advising customers on how to develop solutions. "My job isn't convincing them but to help them understand the opportunity out there," he says.

Forman, who also serve as Cassatt's CIO, says working for a startup avoids any potential conflict-of-interest charges. "One of the things that's important to me is business ethics, personal ethics," he says. "Nobody can claim I was going to a company in which I had any influence over while I was in government. It's a new company."

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