New federal CIO VanRoekel’s goal is execution

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The new federal chief information officer Steven VanRoekel officially starts Aug. 5, but he already knows what he’s getting into.

“What I really saw at the Federal Communications Commission is that this notion of re-imagining government in the context of the pace of innovation of private industry can be done in government,” said VanRoekel today during a press briefing at the White House. “And it can be done in such a way that can save money, save resources and everything else. We were in lock step with Vivek’s team here on data center consolidation, our cloud-first policy and using tools like TechStat and all of that, even though we were an independent agency we were doing everything to close that productivity gap and make things better. I saw what could be done. Now I’m really excited about the ability to take that work and scale it to the broader notion of government and take the momentum and impact things broadly.”

VanRoekel, 41, will have about a week of overlap with outgoing federal CIO Vivek Kundra. Kundra resigned in June and is heading to Harvard for a five-month fellowship. His last day is Aug. 12.


The New York Times first reported VanRoekel’s appointment as federal CIO.

He comes to the Office of Management and Budget from the Agency for International Development, where he’s been since June. Previously, he was managing director at the FCC for two years. Before joining the government, he worked at Microsoft for 15 years, including as an assistant to the software giant’s CEO, Bill Gates.

“There was a lot of interest in the position which I think is a tribute to Vivek and the impact the position has had,” said Jeff Zients, OMB’s deputy director for management. “I believe you spend a lot of time up front to making sure you are choosing the right person for the job. Steven is the right person. He knows technology. He has a combination of private sector experience and now federal government experience, and he shares with Vivek an ability to think strategically, to create priorities and then get stuff done to execute. So the combination of strategic ability and a track record of execution makes Steven the right person for the job.”

During his time at the FCC, VanRoekel said he oversaw most of the agency’s operational aspects, including human resources, finance and technology.

“We were the first agency to take our full web presence to a Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) compliant cloud,” VanRoekel said. “We were the first federal agency to do a slash-developer page with open Web services, APIs and everything into what we did. We did a lot of work to really transform the way people engage with the federal government. Being a regulatory agency, the FCC also opened up the rulemaking process in a way that had never been done before. At one point, if you commented on a blog post, we would put that in the official record.”

Fittingly enough for the new CIO, shortly before the White House made its official announcement, VanRoekel’s Twitter page (@stevenvDC) had already been updated to reflect the career move.

Zients said his goal for VanRoekel as the federal CIO is pretty straightforward.

“This is not a situation where we are asking someone to come in and make radical changes to priorities or to the strategic agenda,” Zients said. “It’s the continued execution across the four areas of emphasis. At the same time, we wanted an innovator. Situations change, new opportunities emerge and Steven will be adding to the agenda across time.”

VanRoekel said he already has met with White House cyber coordinator Howard Schmidt to discuss how their offices will continue to work together. And he will meet with agency CIOs and industry in the coming months to learn more about their concerns and ideas.

“Vivek’s work was really the first step in a larger rework of government IT,” VanRoekel said. “It lays an amazing foundation on which we can build a new set of phenomenon. Looking at things like more in the open government space, looking at shared services across agencies, looking at procurement, purchase and IT investment models are something I really want to explore. This is all very early thinking of course. These are all things I’ve struggled with at the FCC that we found creative ways to work in the context of government and I’m excited that can actually scale pretty broadly.”

Another area of potential focus is creating a 21st century workplace.

VanRoekel said at the FCC he led an effort to update versions of software, implement WiFi in the building and move the telephone system to voice over IP.

Industry reaction so far to VanRoekel has, as expected, been positive.

“We applaud the President for moving so quickly to fill this critical position with the appointment of Steven VanRoekel and allowing for a seamless transition from the tenure of Vivek Kundra,” said Phil Bond, president and CEO of TechAmerica, an industry association. “Mr. VanRoekel’s experience in both government and in the private sector will be a great asset as he prepares to take the technological modernization of the federal government to the next level.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) also applauded VanRoekel’s appointment.

“Mr. VanRoekel comes with an impressive resume, but he has big shoes to fill,” Carper said in a statement. “I look forward to meeting with him soon to discuss how he intends to continue the important reforms that the President and Mr. Kundra started. Our nation simply can’t afford to take a step back in how we manage our IT assets.”

Federal News Radio’s web editor Jack Moore contributed to this story.

(Copyright 2011 by All Rights Reserved.)


Federal CIO Vivek Kundra resigns

Kundra leaving a legacy of innovation