Chief Information Officer
Department of the Interior
Sylvia Burns oversees the $1 billion IT portfolio for the Interior Department and a range of its shared services, including email and telecommunications, for outside agencies.
In her position, Burns is pushing to show how her team can support the department's key objectives. Her staffers are more than “the IT geeks that just build the desktop" and can help other offices with their “mission-enabling IT needs," she told FedScoop at Interior's headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Currently, one big project she's working on is consolidating Interior's internal data centers. The department currently has more than 300 data centers and wants to move that data to six core data centers, the cloud or third-party government providers.
What's your right to complain if you're not doing something to help make things better?
Burns first decided she wanted to pursue government service after she finished her master's at State University of New York at Stony Brook. Even though she was actively recruited to work for an insurance company, she felt driven to take a position in the public sector.
“Everyone talks about how government is messed up," she said. “But I've always felt, like, what's your right to complain if you're not doing something to help make things better?"
She came to the government as a Presidential Innovation Intern and worked at the Department of Commerce for 12 years before moving to Interior in 2006. She was tapped to serve as acting CIO a year ago, and was appointed CIO officially in August.
She advises women to not be afraid of pursuing technology. Women, she said, tend to be better communicators, and often have more patience and better listening skills, which can be an asset in the workplace.
“You can't make progress if everybody hates you," she said with a grin.
She added, “This IT challenge we have in government: It's not about the technology. It's about the people."
– Whitney Blair Wyckoff