Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Richard Spires and rampant speculation about his resignation from DHS

The first sign that something was amiss came on March 19, when the House Homeland Security Committee was holding a hearing. The committee expected to see Richard Spires, Chief Information Officer of the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, Deputy Chief Information Officer Maggie Graves appeared.

A couple of weeks later - unfortunately, on the date of April 1, when all announcements are suspect - it was publicly revealed that Spires was on administrative leave.

Now normally when companies (or government agencies) make personnel moves, the companies do not provide further information on why the personnel move is being made. It is argued that the silence protects the privacy of the individual who has been sacked - whoops, I mean, who has elected to pursue new opportunities. And when a person is not removed, but placed in some type of limbo, the silence can be deafening.

Of course, most companies don't have independent boards of directors. The Department of Homeland Security does - Congress. And representatives have ways of making news.

In a letter dated April 19, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) asked DHS to provide an explanation for Spires "being placed on either voluntary or non-voluntary leave on March 15"....

In the letter, Thompson stated that he was apprised that Spires "was placed on a non-voluntary leave status," which a subcommittee official clarified to FCW as meaning "status not of Spires' choosing."

"I am concerned about Mr. Spires' absence and the reason behind this sudden turn of events," Thompson said in the letter....

You know how when a decision gets questioned for one reason, the decision can get questioned for a bunch of other reasons? Well, that certainly applied here. Congressman Thompson had one more question:

The letter also seeks a "detailed statement regarding how Ms. Graves became officially employed by DHS." "It appears from other sources that Ms. Graves may have been converted from a contractor to a direct hire in the OCIO and then placed in a position of authority over projects that she initially served on as a contractor," Thompson said, highlighting a potential conflict of interest.

Thompson requested that the DHS answer his questions by May 6. DHS did not do so, although one anonymous source implied that Spires was supposed to provide the answers. But how can Spires answer things if he's on leave?

And over the last couple of days, the story took one more turn:

After months of uncertainty about his whereabouts — and plenty of speculation — Homeland Security Department Chief Information Officer Richard Spires has announced his plans to step down.

To no one's surprise, Spires did not provide any details. It is bad form for a resignation letter to criticize your now-former employer, since if you talk bad about this employer, you may talk bad about future employers. This is not the way to build a career.

But if you're looking to build your career, please be advised that the Chief Information Officer, despite the title, is not listed among the senior leadership positions at the Department of Homeland Security. This seems to be confirmed by other anonymous sources:

As CIO for the second largest agency in the federal government, Spires oversaw more than $6 billion in information technology spending and served as the vice chairman of the Federal CIO Council.

However, he recently ran into stiff resistance with a plan to centralize DHS IT investments and budgeting, a conflict that has fueled the rumor mill as to the reason behind his initial decision to take a leave of absence.

A long-time personal friend of Spires, who spoke to Homeland Security Today on background, confirmed that Spires "had no authority" and felt "powerless" to do what he believed needed to be done as CIO.

Meanwhile, the first anonymous source - the one who implied that Spires was supposed to respond to Thompson's inquiry - professed to be clueless:

The senior DHS official who spoke to Homeland Security Today said nobody at the department was sure what the circumstances were behind his decision to resign.

It is worrisome when the agency that is supposed to know what terrorists are thinking has no idea what its (now former) CIO is thinking.
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