Fifteen years after it was founded, Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology may still be best known for the lopsided glass and steel tower it occupies along the Dulles Access Road rather than for anything that has gone on inside.
Today, CIT will announce a new leader, Anne A. Armstrong, editor in chief of FCW Government Technology Group, according to knowledgeable sources. She will be the latest in a long line of people to attempt to instill a clear sense of purpose at the high-tech think tank.
Armstrong, 56, is well known in the Washington technology and policy community. Since 1987, she has worked at FCW, which publishes the weekly newspaper Federal Computer Week, and a monthly magazine called civic.com, which focuses on state and local government technology news. Armstrong now oversees 30 full-time employees and about 20 freelancers.
CIT, which gets $11 million a year from the state, has been dogged by criticism, having four presidents in its first four years, nearly being shut down and having its funding threatened several times.
A project of then-governor and current Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), CIT has been criticized at times since its 1984 founding for being too secretive, for not having a clear focus and for not showing many results for the amount of money poured into the effort annually.
News of Armstrong's impending appointment struck many in the Washington technology community as an unusual choice, but not a bad one. Other people in the running were said to be academics and business people, not journalists.
"It's a little surprising, but it's an interesting choice," said Ed Bersoff, chairman of BTG Inc., a Fairfax information technology company.
Bersoff said he saw Armstrong's personal career move as symbolic of much of what's going on in the local technology community as the focus moves away from government contracting toward commercial Internet business.
"Anne is going to be terrific," said Tom Hewitt, chief executive of Federal Sources Inc., a McLean market research firm. "She's got energy beyond anyone I've ever seen, and she knows everyone in government and everyone in the private sector."
Most thought it was too early to tell exactly how Armstrong will make her mark on the CIT, and Armstrong didn't shed light on that question either, declining a request for an interview. But the consensus among some prominent CIT observers was that whoever takes over the think tank needs to give it a more focused mission.
It's also clear that the new president will need to get along with Virginia's secretary of technology, Don Upson, who was appointed by Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) last May.
In March, Robert G. Templin Jr., who had been president of the CIT for five years, was ousted by the CIT board. At the time, Patricia M. Woolsey, chairman of the CIT board, said that with Gilmore's appointment of Upson as the first secretary of technology for the state, it was time for a new leader.
It was common knowledge in the technology community that Upson and Templin personally did not get along, and Upson easily prevailed in what appeared to be power struggle at the top of the state's technology tree.
Templin's departure upset many area executives who thought he brought vision to the role. Since then, Templin has joined the Morino Institute in Reston as a senior fellow.
People who know Armstrong and Upson said the two have been friends for years and together formed a small dinner club of area industry leaders. Before he took the secretary of technology job, Upson was a vice president of Litton PRC Inc., a McLean information technology firm that is covered closely by FCW.
Upson, in an interview a few weeks ago about choosing a new CIT president, said he was "mindful of the reputation" CIT has of not having clear-cut goals. "We've got proximity to the top people in the world, but we don't use it effectively," he said.
"The CIT will definitely have a new focus," Upson said. "It will be to identify the technology strengths of Virginia and use the resources of the CIT to promote Virginia as a leader to connect small businesses to large, businesses to universities."
Upson admitted that while he did not directly ask Templin to leave, he did go to the CIT board with complaints about him.
"I think we both realized we were going two different directions and had different views of how technology policy should be managed in Virginia," Upson said. "I told the board that there were some very serious differences between Bob and me."
Area executives said there's no way Armstrong would have been picked if Upson wasn't sure the two would get along. "Obviously, Don has a lot of confidence in her," said Todd Stottlemyer, chief financial officer of BTG.
Armstrong has a BA in English from Vanderbilt University and an MLA in history of ideas from Johns Hopkins University.
Her influence will be important, especially if her tenure outlasts those of Gilmore and Upson. Armstrong will be looked to define the group and make new relationships across government, business and academic realms. "Building bridges is what it's going to take," Bersoff said.
Fred Bollerer, president of the Potomac KnowledgeWay Project, which is housed at CIT, said he didn't know Armstrong. But he said he hopes she continues one of the best things Templin had begun, which was to create partnerships across all of Virginia, not just in the northern part of the state.