Hooven Returns to NIH as NICHD Executive Officer
By Robert Bock
Put the talents of the people who work for you to the best possible use. This is one of the guiding managerial principles of Tom Hooven, the new executive officer at NICHD. He learned this principle, however, not in the corridors of industry or government, but on the ball field. An avowed sports fan, Hooven is a founding member of the Washington area Ponce de Leon Baseball League, a weekend league for men over 30.
"Everyone has a talent," said Hooven, who plays shortstop for his team. "Managers need to balance the talents of their employees with their own needs and the needs of the organization."
Although he spent much of his career at NIH, Hooven joined NICHD from the Environmental Protection Agency. There he served as deputy director of the Office of Program Management Operations in the Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. In his former position, he provided management and support services to an organization of 1,500 people in Washington, D.C., and across 10 regional offices spanning the U.S.
Hooven said that a basic fact either on the baseball team or in the workplace is that people need to work together to accomplish a goal. Managers' chances for attaining their goals are greatest when they can fit their employees' talents and abilities to the tasks at hand. A large part of assessing employees' capabilities involves simply talking with them, and getting to know them. Similarly, Hooven said he encourages staff members to come to him not only with their problems, but also with their ideas.
"An open door policy is the best policy," he said. "You never know when someone is going to come into your office with a great idea. But you do know that will never happen if your door or your mind is closed."
Hooven holds a bachelor's degree in information systems management and a master's degree in public administration, both from the University of Maryland.
After a brief career in private industry as a computer analyst, Hooven returned to the University of Maryland and completed his master's degree, which combined his interests in leisure services, public administration and computer sciences.
After graduation, Hooven both taught at Maryland and ran the university's recreational facilities, while also running a community center in Bowie. Eventually, he joined NCI, where he used his administrative and computer skills to improve management reporting. He also worked with epidemiologists on surveillance data registries. Hooven later advanced to an administrative officer's position at that institute, served in its budget office, and then moved to the NIH Office of the Director, in grants policy and analysis. He also worked with DCRT (now CIT) staff to bring personal computers into NIH's mainstream operations.
In reflecting on his tenure at NCI, Hooven mentioned an acquaintance he made with Kim Barber, who worked in the NCI administrative office.
"I spent a lot of time asking her about parking permits and anything else I could think of, just to have an excuse to talk to her," Hooven said. Eventually, his efforts paid off. The two later married and now have two daughters, ages 3 and 12.
"A sound management infrastructure is an integrated system," Hooven said. "It's analogous to the heart and lungs of the organization doing what it needs to do to supply the essentials. The scientists shouldn't be overburdened by infrastructure. They need to focus on and advance our knowledge of diseases and put their considerable energies into reducing human suffering. It's a team approach and a common goal. That's what NIH is about and why I returned."
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