Mission (Being) Accomplished

Every day 20,000 oceangoing containers enter the nation’s 361 ports, according to Chicago-based global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney. Given the difficulty of inspecting such a large number of containers without severely hampering the country’s trade flow, the Department of Homeland Security has called on some of its business partners for help.

Mitretek Systems Inc., in Falls Church, Virginia, is one of them. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit is working on the Department of Homeland Security’s Container Security Initiative, which requires shippers to submit necessary documents 24 hours prior to departure and aims to use radiation detection and imaging technology to perform security inspections.

“We’re trying to find good ways to target containers by looking at data and turning that data into algorithms that can be used for targeting,” says Lydia W. Thomas, president and CEO of Mitretek, which in 1996 was spun off from its predecessor, MITRE. A member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council since 2002, Thomas moved into her current role 10 years ago after working her way from staffer to vice president and general manager of MITRE.

Mitretek is a systems engineering company that serves the government sector by providing public services through the application of science and technology. It provides technological support in public sectors such as healthcare, the environment, biotechnology, energy, information services, law enforcement, telecommunications, and transportation.

With 14 locations nationwide, 804 employees, and about $141 million in annual revenues, the company’s engineers, modeling and simulation experts, computer scientists, and healthcare specialists conduct research and utilize engineering analyses to create scientific knowledge and technological solutions.

In addition to the container security initiative, Mitretek is currently fulfilling a five-year, $64.6 million contract to provide program management, systems engineering, and research and technology assessment to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Program. The company is also working with the University HealthSystem Consortium to improve patient safety through the Web-based RASMAS, a risk and safety management alert system that provides notification, distribution, and management of product alerts and recalls for healthcare organizations.

Armed with a Ph.D. in cytology from Howard University and a master’s degree in microbiology from American University, Thomas joined MITRE in 1973, around the time the company was beginning to look outside of its traditional defense contracting customer base for new opportunities. “They were broadening their skill base and adding non-engineer employees,” says Thomas, 61. “I didn’t know it at the time, but I wound up on the frontier of some new adventures as a result.”

What Thomas also didn’t know was that one day she would one day lead a large segment of MITRE and later Mitretek, an independent portion of the original company. After all, it was the 1970s, and women had yet to stake their claim in technical careers. “Finding a secretary was difficult, since most of them were women, and they weren’t used to working for other women,” recalls Thomas. “At the same time, professional men didn’t treat women as their professional equals.”

Bobbie Kilberg, president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Technology Council in Herndon,