Voice Q&A: PAUSD chief techie speaks on presidential nomination
by Charles Yu
Published February 18, 2014
On Jan. 30, the Obama administration released its nominations for key administrative posts. The Palo Alto Unified School District’s own Chief Technology Officer Ann Dunkin was nominated for an assistant administrator position for Environmental Information for the Environmental Protection Agency. The Paly Voice sat down with Dunkin to talk about her nomination to office. Below is a transcript of the interview.
How were you nominated for the position?
The administration gets probably hundreds of thousands of people who apply for jobs. The main way you get in front of them is to have someone who knows you put your resume in front of them. There’s an organization called the Victory Institute and they have a project called the Presidential Appointments Project, and someone from the Presidential Appointments Project took my resume to the office of the presidential personnel at the White House.
What is your background in Information Technology?
Before I came to the school district, I worked at Hewlett-Packard for just shy of 20 years. I worked in a lot of different fields in HP. In the late 90s, I moved into [Information Technology] and it was actually an operations job for operating webservices. At one point I was the IT manager for Indigo, which is an Israeli digital press company HP acquired. That job was similar to these two jobs where I was the IT manager for the whole organization. I did a number of different jobs in IT at HP before I came [to the PAUSD] almost four and a half-years ago.
I have two engineering degrees. I spent probably 12 years at HP in different engineering jobs that weren’t associated with IT: manufacturing, software quality, and research and development.
What are your current duties at the PAUSD?
On a day to day basis, I might be meeting with principals to talk about the needs of the school sites, or I’m with my team to talk about operational issues in IT. I might be meeting with the Ed Tech team or the library team about training or libraries. We obviously work on budgets and purchasing and implementing technology.
How will your new duties compare to your current ones?
As chief technology officer, I’m responsible for the technology and as CIO [Chief Information Officer, another name for Assistant Administrator for Environmental Information], I’m responsible for the technology. Obviously there are a lot of differences in the day to day of the job. It’s a much bigger organization in terms of the size of IT staff and there are very different issues on a daily basis, but conceptually it’s the same kind of job.
What sorts of duties will you have to take on for this new job?
The job is for the chief information officer of the Environmental Protection Agency, so all my responsibilities will be related to the things the agency does. You would provide IT services for the agency, so that’s the part that’s very similar to here. Every employee of the EPA needs a computer and a telephone and email and all those things. But what’s different is that there are services which IT will provide which are specifically about environmental issues. It might be providing information to the public or it might be providing data to the EPA staff that would be different from something I do here.
When do you start the job?
My start date is dependent — well first of all, I don’t have the job yet. It’s a nomination and I have yet to be confirmed by the Senate. Should I be confirmed then it all depends on when what that date is. It’s a process that certainly takes months, but we don’t really have a very good feel of the timeline. The first step here is for the Senate to schedule a confirmation hearing. Then I would go to D.C. and testify in front of the environment and public works committee, which is chaired by Sen. Boxer.
The senate’s role is advice and consent. The president nominates his candidates and unless the Senate has a substantive objection as a body, then people are confirmed. So it’s their [the senators’] opportunity to ask me questions; it’s their opportunity to get the EPA to share the information that they want from the EPA. They basically evaluate me as a candidate. In some ways it’s sort of like an interview, but unless you’re very controversial or you do something really badly at your hearing, most people make it through the process.
Should your nomination be confirmed, how will your life change?
I will have to move to D.C. for this job. The office is at the federal triangle which is right near the White House. It is totally different. First of all, I’ll be living in D.C. instead of here and then obviously there’s a lot of activities related to the administration. As a presidential appointee, you’re invited to speak at events. You’re invited to a lot of various events around D.C. And obviously the day to day work that I do will be somewhat different. It will be be a very different experience, but it will also be very exciting.
Do you have any goals for what you hope to achieve as Chief Information Officer for the EPA?
As a political appointee, until you get the job, you sort of don’t know what’s going on in an organization. That’s in part because a lot of information is classified. I haven’t gone through my security clearance yet so there are things I can’t know, but I know some things: that there have been some challenges that the EPA has had and there are opportunities for IT to allow the EPA to be more effective. Certainly there are opportunities for the office of environmental information to provide more data to both the employees and the public to make data more accessible.The EPA is very interested in providing things for citizens to get data and understand better their environment and also for professionals who might want environmental data for studies and research. So those are certainly some things that I know are opportunities.
Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone interested in pursuing a career like this?
It’s exciting. It’s a long and challenging process, so if you wanted to do something like this you need to be prepared for the what the process looks like. It takes a long time. I’ve been talking with these folks for a year or more. The FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] investigates you — it’s just a very extensive process, but it’s an exciting opportunity.