Steven VanRoekel named new federal CIO by White House

The White House has named former Microsoft executive Steven VanRoekel and FCC managing director to be the new federal chief information officer of the United States of America, according a report out of the New York Times.

VanRoekel will inherit more than an $80 billion dollar portfolio of federal IT spending from Vivek Kundra, the first federal CIO in the nation’s history.

Over the past year, I’ve written about his progress taking FCC.gov from a long overdue overhaul to reboot as an open government platform, tapong into open source, the cloud, and collective intelligence in the process.

He brought a .com mentality to the FCC, including a perspective that “everything should be an API” that caught some tech observers’ eye. He worked with an innovative new media team that established a voice for social media for the @FCC on social media where that had been none and a FCC.gov/live livestream that automatically detected what device you’d used to access it.

VanRoekel is the man who told me in April that “the experiences that live outside of FCC.gov should interact back into it. In a perfect world, no one should have to visit the FCC website.” Instead, he said, you’d go to your favorite search engine or favorite app and open data from the FCC’s platform would be baked into it.

“If we think of citizens as shareholders, we can do a lot better,” he said. “Under the Administrative Procedure Act, agencies will get public comments that enlighten decisions. When citizens care, they should be able to give government feedback, and government should be able to take action. We want to enable better feedback loops to enable that to happen.”

If he’s able to execute against that vision on a national level, VanRoekel will have an impact. As a federal CIO, however, he’ll inherit a staggering challenge: evolve the nation’s aging IT systems towards a 21st century model of operations. In the age of big data, he’ll have to manage a lot of petabytes, doing much more with less.

He told that New York Times that “we’re trying to make sure that the pace of innovation in the private sector can be applied to the model that is government.”

Thank you for your service, Mr. Kundra. Good luck, Mr. VanRoekel. I’ll be following at @StevenVDC.

First reactions from around the Web.

Here’s some of the best coverage of the appointment from around the Web, starting with the Obama administration’s official announcement:

WHITEHOUSE: Transitions

OMB Director Jack Lew: Over the last two and a half years, the Administration has made unprecedented strides (PDF) in transforming how the government manages and uses information technology to deliver results for the American people. From moving to more efficient cloud solutions and shutting down hundreds of duplicative data centers to reducing planned IT spending by $3 billion and bringing unprecedented transparency to IT spending. That progress has been the direct result of having a President who recognizes the opportunity to harness advances in technology to make government work better and more efficiently for the American people. That’s why President Obama appointed the nation’s first Federal Chief Information Officer to implement the Administration’s technology reform agenda.

As the nation’s first Federal Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra has left a lasting mark on Federal IT – from opening up data in new and innovative ways, to rooting out waste and duplication in IT spending, to steering the Federal government toward more energy efficient and cost effective technologies. And in this time of budgetary and fiscal challenges, sustaining and expanding on those efforts is more important than ever.

That’s why I am pleased that the President has appointed Steven VanRoekel as our next federal CIO. Steve is the right person to continue our efforts to make the government more efficient and more responsive to the America people. He brings a lifelong passion for technology to the position, having spent his entire career in technology in both the public and private sectors.

Under his leadership, I am confident that we will continue to build on the remarkable gains that we have made in changing the way the Federal government manages IT.

TECHPRESIDENT: White House appoints Steven VanRoekel as new US CIO

From outgoing CIO Vivek Kundra, who is leaving for Harvard University, he will inherit a drive to cut costs while continuing to work on a modernization effort that will proceed with markedly less funding this year than when Obama first took office. The E-Government fund, which financed the development of signature Kundra projects such as the Federal IT Dashboard and Data.gov, was cut to $8 million this year, from $34 million. The federal CIO’s portfolio includes government IT policy and procurement writ large, not just modernization and a slice of the work of opening up the government — but this represents a significant curtailment of the White House’s ability to support innovation in those areas.

VanRoekel will also face the often grindingly slow pace of progress inside federal government, something that Kundra and others departing the administration have admitted was challenging to face every day. But he won’t be a stranger to that. In an interview with Nancy Scola upon leaving the FCC, VanRoekel described modernizing a commission that, when he arrived, had an Internet connection so bad that “lawyers would have to go home to use LexisNexis to do their jobs.” Under VanRoekel, the commission relaunched its web presence in a way that completely reframes basic functions like searching for and submitting comments on matters the commission is considering — a subtle shift, but an important one for people trying to monitor and influence communications policy. He described swapping out junk food in vending machines for healthier options. By the time he left, he could watch a YouTube video on the FCC Internet connection without slowing down the entire network.

WASHINGTON POST: New CIO’s role will be belt-tightening.

Not only was VanRoekel, the former Microsoft executive, unfazed by the prospect of trying to persuade a government that has to make $917 billion in cuts over the next decade to pay for snazzy new technology projects but he actually saw the belt-tightening as an opportunity.

VanRoekel’s role will focus on using technology to streamline government and cut costs. This was one of Kundra’s top priorities.

“The productivity gap between where the private sector has gone over the last two decades and where government has gone is ever-widening,” VanRoekel, 41, told reporters Thursday morning, referring specifically to the government’s slow uptake and lack of spending on new technology. “[This] can be done in a way that actually saves money, saves resources and everything else.”

POLITICO: VanRoekel hopes to cut costs.

Rarely do you get to take over in a place where so much good work has been done and so much momentum is already established with teams charging ahead at full steam,” VanRoekel said Thursday, just after the White House announced his appointment.

VanRoekel will continue Kundra’s agenda of eliminating waste in bloated information technology projects, move agencies to cloud computing technologies and make the government more transparent using Web-based and crowd-sourced tools. …

“When a college student is sitting in a classroom with a MacBook Air and a WiFi network, they’re Tweeting and Facebook connecting with friends, getting daily Groupon emails — that’s a lifestyle that the government doesn’t currently cater to,” VanRoekel said. “Part of the priorities also needs to be creating a 21st century workplace.”

CRAIG NEWMARK: Steven VanRoekel, new US Chief Information Officer

…the good news is that Steven’s taken the job held recently by Vivek Kundra, who’s done a really good job of making Federal IT more effective and saved a lot of taxpayers dollars.

Steven comes from the FCC, where I saw first hand that he’s really good at the same, bringing with him a lot of real-life private industry experience.

There’ll be a lot of news on this really soon, but the deal is that I wanted to let people know the good news; I bear witness that Steven’s the real deal.

GOVEXEC: New federal CIO named; no major strategy changes anticipated.

What I saw at FCC is that this notion of re-imagining government in the context of the pace and innovation of private industry can be done and it can be done in a way that saves money and resources,” VanRoekel said during a roundtable discussion with reporters. “We were in lock step with [outgoing CIO] Vivek [Kundra's] team on data center consolidation, on the cloud-first policy and on using tools like TechStat, even though we were an independent agency.”

“This is not a situation where we’re asking someone to come in and make radical changes to priorities or to the strategic agenda,” federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients said. “It’s about continued execution and getting proven results.”

FEDERAL COMPUTER WEEK: New federal CIO gets praise, advice from community.

The White House’s appointment of former Microsoft and federal agency executive Steven VanRoekel as the new Federal CIO replacing Vivek Kundra was met with enthusiastic congratulations on Aug. 4, but not all the reaction was positive.

COMPUTER WORLD: Former Microsoft exec, Obama donor named new U.S. CIO.

Ray Bjorklund, an analyst at FedSources, said VanRoekel “has obviously been well positioned in industry” and combined with his government experience, could be helpful. But Microsoft competitors for federal contracts may feel a little apprehensive, noted Bjorklund.

“You can’t take on major government positions like that and play favorites – that’s not the right thing to do,” said Bjorklund. “Industry may have suspicions, but they may not be well founded suspicions,” he said.

FIERCE GOVERNMENT IT: White House taps VanRoekel to replace Kundra as federal CIO

VanRoekel led the recent relaunch of FCC.gov. The new FCC website has received mixed reviews, but agency representatives have maintained that the website launched “explicitly and very proudly in beta.” In a June 2 interview with The Hill, VanRoekel acknowledged that the FCC redesign has been poorly received by lawyers and regulatory personnel.

While VanRoekel has a great deal of management experience and has established himself as a technologist, he has never acted as an agency CIO or served on the Federal CIO Council. Prior to his appointment to federal CIO, Kundra was the chief technology officer for the District of Columbia. Kundra’s predecessor, Karen Evans, was CIO of the Energy Department before her appointment at OMB.

NEXTGOV: New US CIO Has Cyber Track Record.

Incoming federal chief information officer Steven VanRoekel says experience safeguarding the cloud at his former employer, the Federal Communications Commission, has prepared him to improve the security of digital assets governmentwide.

In October, the then-FCC managing director announced that a new cloud-based environment hosting FCC.gov complied with a laundry list of security controls recommended under the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act. “Our team has fully abided by the FISMA standards throughout this process; at relaunch, FCC.gov will have met or exceeded both low and moderate levels of clearance, enabling us to distribute information, power collaboration and innovate freely,” VanRoekel wrote on the FCC blog.

GARTNER: Welcome the the new US federal CIO and good luck.

Andrea DiMaio: At face value, he looks like a wise choice to fill Vivek’s shoes: he understands technology and the business of technology, has pursued the use of open source software at FCC (hence cleaning his record as a former Microsoft executive for those who still see the Redmond company as the enemy of open source), and has had a prominent business position in the current administration.

On the downside, he has not been running IT (or IT-intensive businesses) in a large agency or department, which is where most of the turf battles as well as potential savings will happen. While Vivek built a vision for transformation and innovation in government IT, the challenges are now in executing on that vision, in moving open government from a nice-to-have to a must-have, in shifting the use of cloud from the edges to the core of the government enterprise. This will take a lot of diplomacy and his past experience in industry may help, although he may still need some time (and solid advice from his staff) to grasp with the complexity of much larger agencies than the one he has been part of.

In my humble opinion, his greatest challenge will be to turn Vivek’s suggestions into an indispensible weaponry for agencies and departments to weather the challenging times ahead. To succeed, he will need to pick few battles to win, rather than try to fight them all. Ironically, the difficult economic and financial situation and the threats to the sustainability of government services and operations could be his best allies to deliver on the IT innovation agenda of the current administration.

INFORMATION WEEK: The New Federal CIO: A Closer Look

VanRoekel hinted at some of the areas that he sees as ripe for further change–open government, shared services, IT procurement and investment. “Vivek’s work was really the first step in a larger reworking of federal IT,” he said. But don’t expect too much, too soon. “This is all early thinking, of course,” he added.

VanRoekel’s background in both the public and private sectors was another factor in his favor. Obama, Zients, and Kundra have all argued that federal agencies lag behind corporate America in leveraging technology. “The gap is the single largest different between public and private sector performance,” said Zients.

There’s a lot of interest in tapping into private sector know-how. In that light, VanRoekel’s years at Microsoft are a feather in his cap, regardless of how others in the tech industry may view that experience, which included a role as a speech and strategy assistant to Bill Gates.

Missing from VanRoeckel’s resume is experience as a CIO, a gap that, for this particular job, is impossible to ignore. The White House had no shortage of accomplished agency CIOs to consider as Kundra’s replacement. Zients acknowledged “there was a lot of interest” in the position. VanRoekel’s ability to think strategically and “get things done” made him the best choice, Zients said.

Ultimately, the federal CIO must close the tech gap that hampers government agencies, a task too big to be accomplished in the two years that Kundra devoted to it. But the government’s $80 billion IT budget is more than enough to cover what’s needed. It’s a matter how effectively that investment is managed, and now it’s VanRoekel’s job to get it right.

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

7 thoughts on “Steven VanRoekel named new federal CIO by White House

  1. Having met Steven and spoken with him at some length with Alex thanks to Shawna Glickfield (@DCConcierge), I am very excited by this news. It is perhaps the most important validation of the approach supported by advocates of #opengov and #gov20 to date. To have someone at his level, with his clout and understanding of the possibilities/necessities gives me real hope. Not only for the future of government technology, but for the future of government itself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>