New federal CIO named; no major strategy changes anticipated

Microsoft
This story has been updated.

Incoming federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel's goal in office will be to consolidate and carry through on programs developed by his predecessor rather than to launch major new initiatives, the former Microsoft executive and Federal Communications Commission managing director said Thursday.

The White House announced VanRoekel's appointment to the government's top technology post early Thursday. He will replace the nation's first federal CIO, Vivek Kundra, who will leave office Aug. 12 to take a fellowship at Harvard University.

"I think Vivek's work was really the first step in a larger reworking of government IT," VanRoekel said. "He [created] an amazing foundation on which we can build."

VanRoekel worked on most of President Obama's signature initiatives during his two-year tenure at FCC, including a plan to consolidate the agency's two data centers into one, moving the FCC.gov website to a computer cloud hosted by a private company and appointing the independent agency's first chief information security officer.

Kundra, has said consolidating federal data centers will save the government $3 billion over five years and that moving much of the federal IT budget to more nimble cloud computing will save $5 billion annually once it's in full swing.

"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 Thursday during a roundtable discussion with reporters. "We were in lock step with Vivek's team . . . even though we were an independent agency."

VanRoekel left FCC in June to be executive director of citizen and organizational engagement at the U.S. Agency for International Development. His final position at Microsoft in 2009 was as senior director of the company's Windows server and tools division.

Federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients said he interviewed several people for the CIO job and chose VanRoekel because of the significant advances in technology and efficiency he made at FCC.

Zients also said he doesn't expect a major shift in priorities following Kundra's departure.

"This is not a situation where we're asking someone to come in and make radical changes to priorities or to the strategic agenda," he said. "It's about continued execution and getting proven results."

VanRoekel will begin Friday at the CIO's office and overlap with Kundra for a short period.

Reflecting on his two and a half year tenure, Kundra said he takes most pride in bringing private sector expectations about efficiency and pace of work to the federal IT sector. He specifically cited standing up the IT Dashboard, an online score card for government IT projects, in only two months.

"Above everything, what markets value is execution," Kundra said. "People sometimes aren't focused on executing because there are 100 reasons why a thing won't get done. You see that a lot in government . . But if you put your shoulder to the wheel and your head down and keep driving hard, whether it's launching the [IT] dashboard or shutting down data centers, then things are going to happen."

He discounted recent industry studies suggesting widespread cynicism among lower level IT managers that his data center consolidation and cloud transition goals can be reached, saying both goals require a culture change in government that's just beginning to take hold.

"There is, generally in life, a tendency to protect the status quo," Kundra said. "None of this stuff is easy. That's why for decades people haven't addressed these issues."

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