That’s about to change.
The agent of that change is Tom Richey, the company’s director of homeland security.
Beyond an impressive background, Richeybrings a rare energy, intensity and thoughtfulness to homeland securityand Microsoft’s role in it—a role that the company has decided toexpand in the years ahead. But it’s the depth of his analysis when hediscusses homeland security challenges and the means of meeting them,and his appreciation of national policy and its role, that clearlymarks him as outstanding on the subject.
At 47 years old, Richey already has 21 yearsin the US Coast Guard under his belt—following a stint in the MarineCorps. After leaving the Coast Guard, he served as senior policyadvisor to Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), currently the presumptiveDemocratic presidential nominee. There, he advised the senator on awide variety of issues including economic, foreign and education policy.
Then, two years ago, Microsoft approachedhim. “I’m not a technical guy,” he said. “My experience was in theCoast Guard and on the Hill. Microsoft was not on the top of my list.”
But Richey discovered that Microsoft didthings differently. “Microsoft is taking a novel approach. They werelooking at this in a new way. They had to reorganize themselves aroundthis new challenge. Outside DC, there were not a lot of people who hadoperations, Hill and a homeland security background. I wasn’toriginally interested, but then I saw their passion and the passion ofthe senior levels of the company,” he recalled. He signed on.
The Microsoft approach, guided by Richey,consists of three elements: A recognition that as an industry leaderthe company has the responsibility to provide its federal customers thetechnology they need, and a responsibility to the nation; building anactionable roadmap that will enhance homeland security as well as aninternal roadmap to meet its goals; and ensuring that all the interimactions build on a framework of trusted, secure and reliablecommunications.
Just as the Department of Homeland Securityis merging all the systems of its 22 legacy agencies, Microsoft had tomerge its own interfaces with each and every agency. Here, Richey’sCoast Guard experience stood him in good stead. The Coast Guard way ofdoing things is to define the mission, determine what resources areneeded to do the mission and then assess the gap between resources onhand and resources required.
“Those skills served me well,” said Richey,who went on to develop a ten year plan to meet the needs he defined.The first step was hiring Mike Byrne, now Microsoft’s director ofjustice and public safety, as his second in command. Byrne was DHS’sfirst director of the Office of National Capital Region Coordinationand a New York City firefighter who helped direct the federal responseat the World Trade Center in 2001. At Microsoft he deals with responderissues.
Beyond that, Richey plunged into thetechnology programs that would aid homeland security and specificallyenable greater information sharing: The Joint Regional InformationExchange System to enable greater information sharing; the LawEnforcement Tactical System now in use in Alabama that weaves togetherlegacy systems and electronic devices to create a system of informationon which homeland security and law enforcement professionals can draw;the virtual alert system that taps into the National Health Systemmonitoring biohazards; and a system being tested in Texas that allowsschools to notify parents of the status of their children in anemergency using any device of the parents’ choice.
In Washington state’s Kings County, Microsoftcreated the Regional Automated Integrated Network, allowing 39 lawenforcement agencies to share information—and by so doing catch theGreen River killer in 2001, ending two decades of serial murders.
Richey sees four primary challenges togreater homeland security—and though he lists technology as one ofthem, he doesn’t regard it as the greatest obstacle. Technologicalhurdles, he says, will be surmounted.
The greatest challenge is cultural, to bringlocal authorities into a new age of information sharing and a differentway of thinking about homeland security. The other two challenges arelegal and political, to create the rules and procedures that will makegreater homeland security possible while preserving civil liberties andprivacy.
Richey is already well advanced intacklingthose hurdles. Microsoft is right there along with him. Redmond isn’tgoing to be quiet much longer. HST