Jack Johnson may have spent the last 14 years helping federal agencies adopt the risk management, intelligence and security solutions needed to protect and pursue critical missions, but it was through government service he learned how to solve those problems.
Johnson currently serves as partner and defense sector leader for government contractor Guidehouse. Originally from Pittsburgh, he received his bachelor’s degrees in criminology and business administration from the University of Maryland, a master’s degree in forensic science from George Washington University, and later joined the Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia in 1979 as an officer and criminal investigator.
In 1983, Johnson was appointed as a special agent with the U.S. Secret Service, and proceeded to serve in a variety of positions of increasing responsibility — domestically and internationally — throughout his 20-plus year career, ultimately rising to the position of deputy assistant director.
It was during his tenure as the special agent in charge of the Forensic Services Division where he received one of the most important recognitions of his career. It was during the D.C.-area sniper attacks in 2002 when Johnson oversaw the forensics division of the Secret Service.
“We had one of the most sophisticated document and handwriting analysis capabilities in the world, and so we did a lot of the analysis because he would leave these notes and catch-me-if-you-can type things,” Johnson said in an interview with WashingtonExec.
In recognition of these efforts, the secretary of the Treasury Department gave Johnson’s entire organization the Treasury Secretary’s Honor Award for assisting in the investigation.
And it wasn’t just recognition from fellow government departments — Johnson has appeared on “60 Minutes,” “The Today Show,” “Forensic Files” and “Cold Case Files” throughout his career.
“You get the recognition from industry,” he said.
In “60 Minutes,” Johnson was called on to talk about how to improve the background investigation process. That had been his biggest challenge as the chief security officer at the Homeland Security Department.
Johnson was appointed as the first CSO of DHS in 2002 by then-Secretary Tom Ridge and former President George W. Bush. And as far as the background investigation process goes, Johnson said it was “totally broken” but is getting better, thanks to new processes and technology.
During his time as DHS CSO (and with the benefit of his background in investigations and intelligence), Johnson and his team were spearheading the identity management initiative in government at the time. He was the chairman of the committee overseeing this project to better safeguard government buildings and facilities without having to use six different badges — think the predecessor of the Defense Department Common Access Card.
But Johnson has always had this passion for government service. His wife was working at the National Security Agency when he met her, and it has always been something they believe in.
“It’s a noble endeavor,” Johnson said. “It’s not the most high-paying job in the world, but you solve some really cool problems.”
And some really gripping cases, too. Perhaps one of the most interesting cases Johnson can discuss was featured on “Cold Case Files.” His forensics division at the time was one of three organizations in the world that had the Vacuum Metal Deposition device, which uses gold filings to find latent fingerprints on surfaces that previously weren’t detectable.
Johnson’s forensics team received a case from Idaho of a child found murdered in a plastic trash bag. The state crime lab couldn’t find any fingerprints on it, so it sent the bag to Johnson’s team.
“We found the noncustodial father’s fingerprints on the inside of the trash bag,” Johnson said. Case closed.
But it wasn’t often the Secret Service was recognized for its work.
“The great thing I loved about Secret Service is we hardly ever put on press conferences. We don’t talk about what we did, we just quietly do it,” Johnson said. “In the United States or around the world, we just take care of things, and those are some of the most self-fulfilling and gratifying things I did, was just whether it’s protecting the president or solving a major threat case or a major criminal investigation.”
It’s not commonly known that before DHS was formed, the Secret Service was the primary criminal investigative agency for the Treasury Department before moving over to DHS. This meant they dealt with anything bank related, including bank fraud, theft-by-wire, money laundering and counterfeiting — which was big at the time.
“Probably my most fun job I ever had was when I was in Miami,” Johnson said, “Basically, I was the supervisor for the Miami Counterfeit Squad, and two-thirds of all counterfeit money in the world comes out of Colombia.”
Johnson was running task forces in Colombia, San Juan, Jamaica and the Miami Airport.
“It was a wild, wild west every day,” he said. “I loved every single minute of it.”
But it was also the most gratifying time in his career — he was truly stopping bad things from happening.
“You’re seizing millions, and tens of millions of dollars of counterfeit currency that’s destined for the United States that can really wreak havoc on the currency,” Johnson said. “Those were fun days.”
But that doesn’t mean fun days are behind him.
From Solving Problems in Government to Solving Problems for Government
Johnson double majored in criminology and business in college because he knew he had a business itch he always wanted to scratch. After starting his career in local and federal government, he knew he still wanted to be involved in government and solve its tough problems.
“I knew the system, I knew the organizations. I knew some of the challenges and I just loved being able to help fix things,” Johnson said.
When the second secretary of DHS, Michael Chertoff, was transitioning in in 2005, Johnson saw this as an opportunity.
“I had my time in and I thought, wow, if I’m ever going to go do something different, now would be a good time to do that,” he said. So, he did.
Johnson joined PricewaterhouseCoopers as part of the company’s Washington Federal Practice in 2005.
“I always love a challenge; I always love building things,” Johnson said. “So, I went to PwC as one of their original leaders in the Washington Federal Practice and we helped build that into the fastest growing business unit in the history of PwC.” And he did so for 13 years.
Been There, Done That
Johnson said he didn’t know what to expect when making the transition from government to industry, but immediately felt he could speak their language when trying to help solve government problems.
Oftentimes, Johnson would speak to an agency assistant secretary, CIO or CSO he would know from his time in government, and they were able to have candid conversation about the problems and challenges they were facing, and the pressures they were receiving from Capitol Hill, the Office of Management and Budget or the Government Accountability Office.
Johnson helped agencies understand what they needed to do and the tools they needed to adopt to comply.
“They really appreciated someone that had been there. Someone that had been a senior executive in the government for many, many years and could really help them solve these very difficult problems,” Johnson said, many of which were political and budgetary.
That’s where the “been there, done that” familiarity played a role. Johnson’s federal tenure helped him build stronger relationships with agencies as customers and understand government problems from the inside out to solve them.
And that’s exactly what he’s doing at Guidehouse, where he’s been since July 2018 when PwC rebranded.
It’s All About Quality
“Here at Guidehouse, we’re really are proud of the fact that we solve some of the most challenging, some of the most vexing problems in all of government,” Johnson said.
The company specializes in areas of supply chain, logistics, design for affordability of major weapon platforms, cybersecurity, financial optimization, business transformation and overall strategy.
And those are challenge areas for organizations as they modernize.
“In this case, [the Defense Department]is trying to get into the 21st century for a lot of their systems and processes and so on and so forth,” Johnson said, “and helping them get there is really, really exciting for us.”
Johnson runs the DOD business for Guidehouse, and his priorities for the rest of 2019 primarily focus around continuing to help build the brand and transition to Guidehouse from PwC. And a major part of a brand is how it treats its employees.
Guidehouse and its legacy organization PwC public sector have never laid off an individual during a government shutdown.
“Never once — when their contract stopped, project stopped, the work got shut off, the money got stopped — we never laid anybody off,” Johnson said.
The nation faced the longest government shutdown from Dec. 22 through Jan. 25. Many of Guidehouse’s employees, considering the nature of their work, were significantly financially impacted by the shutdown. Not only did Guidehouse keep them all on board, but it provided financial assistance to those impacted or furloughed — whether that be by spouse or significant other. And this wasn’t a loan, but simple aid for groceries, rent, children and bills, for example.
“We went, what I consider, above and beyond,” Johnson said, “that really speaks to the Guidehouse brand. The one thing I want people to think about when they think of Guidehouse is quality.”
Industry Execs, They’re Just Like Us
When he’s not helping solve DOD problems (or solving crimes), Johnson enjoys golfing.
“I do so very badly,” Johnson said. He has four rules: “One is I don’t keep score. Two is I drink. Three is I smoke cigars and four is I laugh at myself because it’s perfect therapy.”
He and his wife are also grandparents.
“That’s the greatest joy of my life right there, is hanging out with the grandkids,” he said. The occasional t-ball and basketball practices helps Johnson to feel as if he’s reliving his youth — without the full responsibilities of parenting.
But looking 10 years in the future, Johnson hopes to continue working in some sort of consultative fashion for the government and for Guidehouse.
“The joke I always have is I bleed government blood, it’s what I’ve grown up in since the early ‘80s. I love it, I love the challenge, I love the mission, I love the excitement of it,” Johnson said, “so I want to be a part of it for as long as I possibly can.”
But for now, he sticks to one speed, 100 mph. Johnson said he’s been blessed with great leaders, including Guidehouse CEO Scott McIntyre and other partners and managing directors in the DOD practice.
“I stay at Guidehouse because of the people, and because of the mission. Great people, great mission,” he said.