From the get-go, Darwin John was an unlikely candidate to overhaul the FBI’s antiquated computer systems.
John’s style, honed during two decades as a CIO, is introspective, philosophical. The bureau favors men of action. In his mild-mannered fashion, John uses words like “holistic” when talking about conceiving long-term IT plans. The bureau is just what it sounds like—a bureaucracy. (For more about John’s taking the FBI CIO job, see “The Unlikeliest G-Man,” at www.cio.com/printlinks.)
And so it was on May 14, that the FBI announced that John was retiring. One of FBI Director Robert Mueller’s most prominent appointments after September 11, John’s mission as CIO was to transform the burdensome bureaucracy into an IT-powered hive of supersleuths. He lasted just 10 months. And the bureau’s ambitions for a quick, effective and much-needed modernization have stalled again.
John, former head of IT for the Mormon Church and Scott Paper, has moved back home to Cottonwood, Utah, but he’ll still spend one week a month at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“I hope it’s the best of both worlds, where I will have the opportunity to have input but in a way that works better,” says John, 65, who (in his quiet way) expressed frustration that he was forced to spend too much time on the FBI’s day-to-day operations and too little time on long-term strategy. “There are a lot of demands on [the bureau’s CIO], and gravity pulls you toward the near term. Reflecting on the whole, I think this [consulting role] clearly is freeing in that sense to be able to focus on longer term,” he adds.
With the new consulting role, John will spend one-on-one time each month with Mueller and participate in IT strategy meetings.
W. Wilson Lowery, executive assistant director of administration, will serve as interim CIO while the FBI conducts yet another search for a CIO. An ad for the CIO position in 2002 cited the need for someone who possessed financial management know-how, leadership skills and the ability to navigate treacherous political waters. A spokesperson for the FBI says that the criteria for the position will not change and that John will help with the new search. “The director was very happy with Darwin. He’s just trying to find someone that’s compatible with the needs we have here.”
John knew he was a challenging fit for the FBI, but then again, this founding figure of the CIO position had been in similar spots. “It’s clear that my style is not the predominant style at the bureau,” he told CIO last winter. “It’s probably fair to say that I think about things differently than many do here, but that’s probably been true in every setting I’ve been in.”