“Everything you see us do every day is to either figure out how to get to Mars and back, or it’s to figure out more about this planet or more about our universe to benefit every single one of us,” said Renee Wynn, NASA’s chief information officer, during her recent interview with Women of WashingtonAileen Black and Gigi Schumm.
Wynn said that her coworkers at NASA are driven and excited, and that the energy at the agency has not really changed since NASA’s efforts to put a man in space in the 1960s.
“We’re bringing back data every single day that is telling us something new or refuting something we had thought to be true about our universe or other universes that exist. So if we’re not sending somebody off this great planet, we’re bringing someone back, and we’re bringing data back.”
The public, Wynn said doesn’t always share that excitement because they seem to have forgotten how magnificent and difficult space travel is.
“Getting to Mars is really, really hard,” she said. “I think people forget because SpaceX and Blue Origin have been able to do rocket launches, but every rocket launch is very, very risky. And everybody’s beginning to make it look easy.”
Prior to becoming CIO of NASA, Wynn served as CIO at the Environmental Protection Agency. The transition between agencies was not always easy for Wynn, in part because of the difference in scale between the two agencies.
“EPA is its own single agency with regional offices. NASA is its own agency, but it has our centers, which changes the complexity,” Wynn said.
“Since we’re talking about NASA, we should talk about the globe. And NASA is not only on the globe, but we’re above the globe as well, on the International Space Station,” she said.
Wynn added that the biggest surprise for her upon starting at NASA was “the amount of IT that NASA invents as well as uses. It’s pretty phenomenal, when you get to see what we’re doing.”
Wynn said that being an effective change agent requires patience and dedication to the task and that is what makes a person successful at working for the federal government.
“You’re walking into a really large ship,” she said. “And a really large ship doesn’t turn like a canoe or raft. You have to realize that what you want to do is focus on where you want to take it, and then gradually work at that. And know that there are going to be some mess-ups along the way in the turning.”
Wynn said patience alone is not enough to be an effective agent within the federal government and credited her “drive” for her success.
“You have to really decide that you want to serve, and that you’ve got the fortitude to endure the headlines that come out.”
Gigi Schumm welcomes Washington's most ambitious and influential female executives to share their secrets to success. Contact Gigi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to Women of Washington’s audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.