Carmela Keeney leads a diverse workforce at SPAWAR SC Pacific
SSC Pacific includes 4,300 civilian and military personnel and more than 2,000 contractor support people
and has a budget of more than $2.4 billion
Carmela Keeney, executive director of Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific), leads a diverse and highly technical group working to research, develop, field and support advanced technologies.
SSC Pacific, with a budget of more than $2.4 billion, includes 4,300 civilian and military personnel and more than 2,000 contractor support personnel. In addition to her exec director position, Keeney is also Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) deputy chief engineer Pacific under the assistant secretary of the Navy's competency-aligned organization (CAO).
Keeney's management style stresses balance, always weighing immediate and near-term priorities with the longer-term priorities of the future. "The urgent crises of the day can be all-consuming, but it's critical to think strategically and plan for the future so we have the people, processes and tools we'll need for the critical issues of tomorrow," she says.
Focus on the ocean
Keeney graduated from the University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) in 1979 with a BSME. She had considered marine biology and oceanography, but finally settled on ME with an emphasis in ocean engineering.
She was happy to find a technical field that involved the ocean. Her Italian father, a commercial fisherman, inspired her interest in all things marine, and he and her Mexican mother taught her to seek the benefits of a good education and hard work.
After graduation Keeney went to work at the Naval Civil Engineering Lab in Port Hueneme, CA. She returned to nearby UCSB for her 1985 MS in EE and computer engineering, working at the lab at the same time.
When she completed her MS degree Keeney moved to a job as project manager and bionics branch head at the Naval Ocean Systems Center, Hawaii laboratory (Kailua, HI). In 1992 she moved to the Naval Ocean Systems Center, San Diego (now SSC Pacific), first as ocean systems division head, then as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) department head. With each move her work provided increasing scope and responsibility, and in 2000 she became a member of the senior executive service.
In 2006 Keeney was named exec director of SSC Pacific. "It's the best job!" she says. "Every day is different and I always learn something new. I am surrounded by very bright and motivated people.
"In the Department of Defense we focus on our mission," she says. "The people, the mission, the diversity and constant challenge are truly rewarding, but best of all is knowing that we're working on something that makes a difference in the world. Like the Navy motto says, we're a 'global force for good.'"
In 2009 Keeney received the first annual UC San Diego Bernard and Sophia Gordon engineering leadership award in government for her technology management and dedication to educating the next generation of technology leaders.
The pace of technological change can be a challenge for managers, she reflects. "Recruiting and developing an IT-savvy workforce that stays on the leading edge of technology is hard enough," she says, but a government team must also sustain legacy IT systems that remain in operation long after they would have been replaced in commercial life.
When it comes to significant challenges and key strategic decisions, she may consult not only with the leadership team, but with peers and a cross section of the workforce. "It's important to tap into different perspectives, and the courses we take and the solutions we implement have significantly benefited from this consultative approach.
"But it's also important to make a decision and move on," she adds with a smile.
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