Miller: Education's New Recruit
By Greg Langlois
Federal Computer Week
Many factors went into Rick Miller's decision to apply for the job of principal deputy chief information officer at the Education Department: the chance to return to public service after years in the private sector, his company's impending move to a new city in Georgia and, perhaps most importantly, not-so-subtle entreaties from Education CIO Craig Luigart.
"I guess what prompted me to come back was Craig," Miller said. "He lobbied me for a year to do it." After an independent ranking board found him the most qualified candidate, Miller was appointed Sept. 1, 2000, to lead Education's Information Technology Division ? and fill in for his new boss as needed.
Miller and Luigart have been in and out of each other's lives for nearly 25 years, going back to their days as Navy pilots. After Luigart became CIO in September 1999, he began recruiting his friend. "I didn't expect that he was going to say yes," Luigart said. "He took a major pay reversal to take this position. The department is very lucky to have him." Money played a part in Miller's decision, but not in the traditional sense. After working a number of years in industry, Miller grew wary of trying to motivate people with money as a carrot. "People have a very difficult time being motivated by dollars," he said. "They want to have a mission [and] a focus, they want to see a reason why they're doing what they're doing ? not saving a penny or making another penny."
His new job gives him that. Miller leads a staff that operates the department's local- and wide-area networks, Web site, help desk, business application development and other systems where the bottom line is boosting customer service, not increasing profits.
Miller brings to Education his ability to "make an organization more efficient, effective and less prone to disaster." One significant move in this area is the Change Control Review Board, which examines all proposed changes to Education's network before they are made. "It's literally a checkpoint before you put something into an operations environment," Miller said. "You want to make sure you've done your homework."
Although stability is essential, he tries to avoid its extreme: the stifling of creativity. "The challenge for an IT shop is to strike a balance between the need for stability and control and [the need to be] dynamic and flexible enough to allow new solutions to be introduced," he said.
Miller said his Navy experience and his mentors there taught him the management skills he uses today, including his "teamwork to achieve a mission" philosophy. "I am today the product of my Navy upbringing," he said. "I grew up and matured as a leader and a manager in the Navy."
Luigart called Miller "a very detailed manager" who's also flexible and "believes in consensus. He has no problem making hard decisions. He's a creative thinker and manager and works very well under pressure."
Pressure and teamwork are not new to Miller. He was a goalkeeper for the Naval Academy's soccer team for four years. Miller's sports endeavors these days involve biking and skiing ? and watching his two daughters perform at competitive cheerleading events.
Miller will be busy this year. The CIO office has numerous initiatives planned, among them to redesign the Education intranet and Web sites and award a new wireless phone contract. For Miller, "the dynamic of the day-to-day changes" makes the job enjoyable. "You never know exactly what the day's going to be like."