At the Intersection of Government and the Private Sector
Cyber security has become an issue of grave importance to government officials. In 2009, President Obama highlighted the significance of the digital infrastructure of the US when he declared it to be a “strategic national asset.” In a July 2010 article on Cyberwar1, the Economist said, “After land, sea, air and space, warfare has entered the fifth domain: cyberspace.”
These days, the news is ablaze with reports on the latest victims of cyber attacks. Headlines such as these have become commonplace:
Stuxnet worm ‘targeted high-value Iranian assets’ (Sept, 2010)
China rejects Google allegation of massive hacking breach as ‘fabrication’ (June, 2011)
UN, multinational networks hacked from China (Aug, 2011)
How Iran hacked super-secret CIA stealth drone (Dec, 2011)
Ten years ago, CIPA alumnus Jeff Wright ’92 transitioned, quite successfully, from the US Army to this burgeoning new field of cyber security. His military background was an asset in this field, to be sure, but so was his preparation as a public policy professional. The cyber frontier had emerged rapidly and without much order or oversight; implementing policies and protocols for safeguarding this asset and managing operations had become a priority for governments, corporations and individuals alike.
In an interview with CIPA in Brief editor Lisa Lennox, Jeff discusses his career trajectory, the role that CIPA played in his success, and the skills he sees as most valuable in the workplace.
Q: It has been nearly 20 years since you graduated from CIPA. Where has your career taken you most recently?
A: I am a Managing Director for Civitas Group in Washington, DC. We consult for US and international private industry and government clients in the areas of national security and policy. Our government practice, where I work, specializes in strategy and policy, organizational management and emergency preparedness and response. I focus on cyber security policy, programs and exercises. My projects have included all levels of government (federal/state/local) and the private sector.
Q: You haven’t always worked in the private sector. You came to CIPA while still in the US Army, and have made several significant career changes in the 20 years since.
A: When I left CIPA in 1991, I spent a year studying at Pakistan Army Command and Staff College. After that I served as an International Program Officer for South Asia at US Army Pacific (Hawaii), Intelligence Analyst for South and Southeast Asia in the Pentagon, and Assistant Army Attaché at the US Embassy in New Delhi, India.
After retiring from the Army in 2002, I have worked largely in cyber security, initially working international cooperation in cyber for DoD (Department of Defense) as a consultant with Booz Allen. I was part of a small team that worked directly with allied nations and militaries, coordinating and exchanging information related to cyber security incidents and vulnerabilities. We were writing the DoD policy as we developed the relationships with partner countries. Along the way we began to work with DHS (Department of Homeland Security) which was just establishing the National Cyber Security Division (NCSD). This led to my transition back into government at NCSD, as head of the national cyber exercise program. I subsequently became the Deputy Director for Strategic Initiatives at NCSD.
Much of the work in cyber security for government relates to legislation, policies and regulations for securing the networks and information systems, so understanding how the government policy cycle works has been an important aspect of my work.
Q: How difficult was it to transition between the government and the private sector? Do you have any suggestions for people who are interested in making similar shifts?
A: Transitions in and out of government are becoming more commonplace. I would expect senior government officials 20 years from now to have spent a considerable amount of time on both sides of the fence. I think that is a good thing. Having individuals who are familiar with both sectors is important for “good government” as it brings greater understanding to each one.
Specializing and being good at what you do is important because it demonstrates competence, but being flexible is critical to your long term success. I certainly have had my fair share of meandering in my professional life. Look, I started off in the field artillery making things blow up, migrated to international defense, transitioned to international cyber and then leaped into homeland security cyber. The ability to be flexible and adapt to change is what has allowed me to make those transitions at each of the inflexion points in my career.
Q: In what ways do you think your CIPA MPA prepared you for your career?
A: I was fortunate to construct a study program that broadened my horizons considerably and helped me understand US policy-making and the international economy. I studied areas beyond my South Asia regional specialization, including comparative economics, macroeconomics, comparative government and US foreign policy. All of this is critical to a well-rounded MPA education. Most policy jobs have some sort of global aspect to them, even when you are working in what might be considered a purely domestic area. At CIPA, I also had the opportunity to do database programming, and, of course, statistics. I used all of this working in the Army and Pentagon, not to mention DHS.
Q: Based on your experience, what suggestions do you have for Fellows preparing for the workplace?
A: By far the most important skill I have, and the one thing I expect from every team member and employee, is critical thinking. This is a fundamental skill no matter what your field or profession. For my current work, you have to be able to see and analyze how IT systems support critical business functions or government operations, where the critical data is, how it moves through the enterprise and how organizational policy impacts the IT enterprise. The critical thinking part is important because nothing, and particularly cyber, works in a vacuum.
In my job, the need for critical thinking is followed closely by both the ability to write with clear and concise language and the ability to speak in a group or public setting. Even in the “geek” cyber world, being able to interact effectively both with senior management and with customers is an important component of the job.
Jeff and his wife Penny live in Huntsville, AL; they recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. They have two children. Their daughter Maggie is majoring in human services at Troy University and hopes to go into the Peace Corps or work for USAID following graduation. Maggie spent her first 18 months in Ithaca. Their son Daniel is a junior in high school and is already planning for a career in the computer world.