- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 27, 2009

Paul Cofoni comes across as a soft-spoken, cerebral chief executive - not exactly what one would expect from a point man in the war on terror.

“We’ve always lived in dangerous times,” said Mr. Cofoni, whose job as a young Army captain in Germany in the early 1970s was to launch nuclear-armed Nike-Hercules missiles at Soviet bombers in the event of World War III.

“We always will live in dangerous times,” he said, recalling how he lived with his family near the dividing line between East and West during the Cold War.

CACI International Inc., the Arlington company he leads, has grown along with the dangers.

What was for decades a small, low-profile defense contractor has evolved into a larger, more diverse company with brand-name recognition since Sept. 11, 2001.

CACI provides everything from civilian databases to cyberwarfare countermeasures to training for Army recruits going into battle for the first time.

That growth, overseen by Mr. Cofoni’s long-time predecessor, Jack London, now executive chairman, requires a transition from small, niche innovator to a larger company offering a broader suite of products and services to government, military and intelligence clients.

Mr. Cofoni, CACI’s chief executive officer since 2007, now must manage that growth. He approaches the job as a team-builder rather than a table-pounder, based in part on lessons learned under two very different coaches during his high school football days.

His management-speak sounds a lot like football-speak.

“Mostly when I’ve seen organizations get in trouble is when things go through cracks,” he told The Washington Times in a recent interview.

“And things go through the cracks when people don’t care about each other. They see their lane and they think they’re being evaluated on their lane but they don’t worry about the seam between their lane and the next person’s lane,” he said.

“Cost of operation is higher along the seams and so if you work the seams and make the seams seamless, things don’t fall through the cracks and you’re operating at a high level of efficiency,” he said.

“That is my style. I didn’t get it all at once, I got it mostly from scar tissue,” he said. “Barking tends to set up fear levels in people and shuts them down as opposed to letting them … come to the obvious conclusions, just making sure they have the right data.

“I’m not a table-pounder. There was a day when I was a table-pounder, but I got tired and I got wise and gave it up. My style of management is more of an inclusive, team-building style,” he said.

But don’t let the light touch fool you.

“My fire burns inside more than it burns outside. I’m one of the most competitive people you could expect to meet anywhere,” Mr. Cofoni said.

Few have seen as much of CACI’s growth as Jody Brown, a longtime aide to Mr. London. “It was like a garage startup,” she said of the company’s founding in 1962 as California Analysis Center Inc.

Herb Karr and Harry Markowitz, a future Nobel laureate in economics, started the company in Santa Monica, Calif., with a new programming language for simulation software which Mr. Markowitz had developed at Rand Corp.

Such software today is used for flight-simulation training, design and, yes, computer games.

CACI started with a database for government agencies - it still manages the Justice Department’s database of evidence - but through acquisitions and internal growth the contractor also analyzes intelligence for U.S. spy agencies and even sends former special operations troops into battle zones. These special ops personnel are there to train inexperienced recruits, not to fight their battles, Mr. Cofoni said.

CACI’s revenue more than doubled from $485 million in fiscal 2000 to $1.15 billion in 2004, and more than doubled again to $2.73 billion in fiscal 2008, which ended June 30. CACI has acquired more than two dozen companies since 1992.

The Sept. 11 attacks were “a pivotal point for us,” said Ms. Brown. “We made acquisitions and built our core strengths in intelligence work. The more we acquired the more we could acquire, then we attracted very significant high-level talent that was coming out of the [intelligence] agencies that further bolstered our credentials and our capabilities.”

A heart attack victim at 41, Mr. Cofoni won plaudits 20 years later for serving as chairman of last month’s sixth annual Heart Walk, sponsored by the American Heart Association’s Greater Washington Region.

The walk exceeded its annual fundraising goal of $125,000 by $30,000, he said, and sponsors added $500,000 more during the walk itself. The AHA approached him about leading the event in August 2008 - shortly after he returned to work from double bypass surgery.

These days, he leads heart walks for CACI employees. CACI has been certified by the AHA as a “Fit and Friendly Company,” which recognizes a company for everything from encouraging employees to lead healthy lifestyles to providing healthy choices in its vending machines.

Mr. Cofoni was recently elected vice chairman of the Professional Services Council, the largest industry group of government contractors, said Stan Soloway, chief executive of the group.

“It’s a significant leadership role, and it shows the respect he holds among members,” Mr. Soloway said.

“He’s thoughtful, he’s even-keeled. When I’ve gone in for advice or counsel, it’s been thoughtful and insightful. He’s not flashy, but he’s very effective. He’s a down-to-earth guy who really worked his way up,” he said.

Mr. Cofoni’s thoughts these days lead him to concern about the safety of the home front.

The nation’s physical infrastructure, consumer supply chain and computer networks are all vulnerable, and could be terrorists’ next angle of attack, he said.

“One case of a tampered swine flu vaccine could alter the whole course of medical prevention in a flu season,” he said, as millions of Americans would decline safe vaccines because some supplies were tainted.

He noted that much of the nation’s infrastructure - including nuclear power plants - is controlled by computers.

And unlike rival nations, which would be vulnerable to counterattack, terrorists are not governed by the Cold War notion of “mutual assured destruction,” Mr. Cofoni said.

Cyberwarfare also is a cheap way to try to harm the United States.

“The cost to launch a cyberattack is a small fraction of the cost to launch a kinetic [bullets and bombs] attack,” he said.

Before Mr. Cofoni’s tenure, CACI was forced to scramble when two employees - along with four other civilians - were linked in an Army report to the abuse of prisoners in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

The men were not prosecuted. CACI was later sued, but the lawsuit was dismissed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

CACI vigorously denies the allegations.

“To this day, there is no evidence we are aware of that any CACI employee participated in the type of behavior seen in the horrifying photos that accompanied the first reports of abuse, and no CACI employee appears in any of those pictures,” the company says in a statement on its Web Site.

The company has ceased providing interrogation services and the implicated employees left CACI in 2004, the statement says.

Mr. Cofoni also said CACI is not a mysterious company, distancing the company from other defense contractors such as the controversial Blackwater, whose civilian employees trade fire with the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’re not spies, we’re not soldiers of fortune, we’re just patriots,” he said.

“This struggle is a struggle for us, our children and our grandchildren and maybe beyond as well, so I don’t think America has come completely to grips with that,” Mr. Cofoni said.

Muslim radicals don’t share the Western world’s conception of war as “finite,” he said.

“The problem is if America could leave [the Middle East] for 10 years, the situation could have the potential to normalize. But as long as energy resources in that part of the world are important to us, for our national security and our economy, it’s not possible for us to vacate those areas or our interests or our involvement in that part of the world,” Mr. Cofoni said.

“So that sets it up to be a long-term struggle.”

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