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10/29/2013
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Federal CIO Urges Bold Vision For Government IT

Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel calls Obamacare site's launch something "to be proud of" and urges government IT community to view bugs as a "teachable moment."

Top 10 Government IT Innovators Of 2013
Top 10 Government IT Innovators Of 2013
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Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel, in one of his first public appearances since May, urged government and industry IT officials on Tuesday to look beyond the tactical elements of IT projects and embrace a more strategic and modular approach. VanRoekel also outlined the Obama administration's IT priorities for fiscal year 2014 and responded to criticisms of the problem-plagued Healthcare.gov launch, urging the IT community to view what went wrong as a "teachable moment" for government.

VanRoekel's priorities for fiscal 2014 -- innovating, delivering federal IT systems that meet agency needs, and protecting those systems -- carry over themes from 2013, but he placed new emphasis on people as a fourth pillar of his agenda.

Following furloughs of federal workers during the partial government shutdown and amid continued sequestration and budget uncertainty, VanRoekel acknowledged that "it's really hard to attract and retain talent." But he also said the opportunity for government IT pros to make a difference on a large scale remains a compelling reason to consider public service. He said the administration plans to devote more attention to training and redeploying IT workers, such as email administrators whose jobs are being eliminated as agencies consolidate email systems.

[ What can we learn from Healthcare.gov's spectacular face plant? Read Why Do Big IT Projects Fail So Often? ]

Programs such as the president's Innovation Fellows, which attracts entrepreneurs to government to address specific challenges, will also continue to play a role in bringing talented people to government IT efforts, VanRoekel said, speaking at the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va.

VanRoekel said agency IT efforts must become more customer-centric, recalling when President Obama asked during a meeting: "How come I can't track a passport application the way I can track a package on Amazon.com?" And he urged audience members, mostly federal IT pros, to share their successes with one another. "If you're doing something great in customer service, let's scale it," VanRoekel said. At the same time, he invited the executives in the audience to inform his office about IT issues that need more attention.

VanRoekel also emphasized the importance of "marrying usability and modularity" as a way to buy and deliver IT services more efficiently. He lauded Department of Homeland Security deputy CIO Margie Graves for DHS's build-once, use-often reference architecture for mobile services and devices, an approach he said typifies the government goal of delivering better services at lower cost.

He reiterated the need for agencies to tackle IT programs in smaller, more modular chunks. "Monolithic failure cannot be the norm for government," he said, without referring specifically to the Healthcare.gov registration exchange, which didn't follow that prescription. "Agencies must use modular development to reduce risk."

VanRoekel did address some of the criticisms leveled at the Healthcare.gov rollout on Oct. 1.

What "doesn't get a lot of coverage is the boldness" Healthcare.gov demonstrated, he said, pointing to the integration of so many legacy systems and the creation of a site that "operates on an Internet scale." VanRoekel argued that the government's willingness to tackle something on such a scale, with such "incredible complexity," is "something to be proud of" despite Healthcare.gov's initial failings. VanRoekel recounted his experience working at Microsoft when a major software product launch he oversaw was recalled because of unforeseen problems.

"The key thing here is to ask, 'What can we learn from this?'" he said. He noted how the Department of Veterans Affairs used the loss of a laptop containing the records of 26 million veterans as an opportunity to review and overhaul its IT organization, giving the VA CIO singular responsibility for IT policies across the department.

Looking longer term, VanRoekel reiterated his vision for federal agency IT, one where departments and agencies take on more centralized operation of commodity IT services such as email and core enterprise systems. "I want the CIO at FAA to wake up and go to bed thinking about flight safety," he said, and "not wondering about email or where am I with commodity contracts."

VanRoekel also said that protecting federal networks and other critical infrastructure against cyber threats remains a core IT priority of the Obama administration. He noted that of the $80 billion budgeted for IT in the president's 2014 budget, $13 billion is set aside for cybersecurity. He also pointed to the growing number of cloud services and applications granted cloud security authorizations under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP).

In closing, VanRoekel urged his federal colleagues to "own the future we want to see" and to embrace the notion of continual improvement.

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JoannaD306
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JoannaD306,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/4/2013 | 10:25:44 PM
re: Federal CIO Urges Bold Vision For Government IT
Bold or not bold, some of the major issues with the healthcare.gov site were preventable. In fact, if you apply a common IT framework such as ITIL as a litmus test, it's pretty glaringly obvious where they went wrong - service design, service transition, service operation, and CSI - it's actually all outlined in a post found here: http://goo.gl/aVttCG
daverill801
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daverill801,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/1/2013 | 6:35:05 PM
re: Federal CIO Urges Bold Vision For Government IT
Based on the article, perhaps the problem is Mr. Van Roekel, himself. Let's look at his history. "VanRoekel recounted his experience working at Microsoft when a major software product launch he oversaw was recalled because of unforeseen problems. " Is this a habit, to go through software development requirements/processes and not address the "unforseen problems". I'm sorry, it's up to him to provide leadership in this area, 3 years ago, not in hind sight. Is Van Roekel even qualified for this high visibility job? It sounds like the stakeholder requirements were and may still be incomplete.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
11/1/2013 | 4:35:48 PM
re: Federal CIO Urges Bold Vision For Government IT
This sounds like a good idea, but it's naive. People need to understand that the authority for managing projects like this belong to the program managers inside CMS, and HHS -- and that the CIOs inside HHS and CMS -- let alone VanRoekel -- don't have the authority many people assume to just step in and monitor what's going on.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
11/1/2013 | 2:46:10 AM
re: Federal CIO Urges Bold Vision For Government IT
So if the main benefit of the Healthcare.gov screwup is a "teaching moment," shouldn't it come out of the Department of Education's budget? ;)
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Ninja
11/1/2013 | 2:37:39 AM
re: Federal CIO Urges Bold Vision For Government IT
I do agree that failure can be a teaching moment, but this "failure is great because you can learn from it" culture that is overtaking the tech world is really getting ridiculous now.

1) Success is teachable too.

2) Sometimes, a failure doesn't mean something. Sometimes it's just a failure.
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
10/31/2013 | 6:14:53 PM
re: Federal CIO Urges Bold Vision For Government IT
Perhaps. I doubt Van Roekel was more than informed in passing about the website and certainly was not in a position to preventively advise anyone of problems. Everything about him is high level, strategy even this article states as much. Identifying potential problems in order to advise would be found at a more tactical implementation level (well below where he operates).
wht
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wht,
User Rank: Strategist
10/31/2013 | 3:57:28 PM
re: Federal CIO Urges Bold Vision For Government IT
I agree. But better to learn on a smaller scale, less visible and less expensive project. To many tax dollars lost on this biggie, and too many people more than inconvenienced. In my world (financial industry) heads would have rolled, long ago.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
10/31/2013 | 2:40:49 PM
re: Federal CIO Urges Bold Vision For Government IT
I'm not looking for VanRoekel to throw his colleagues or his boss under the bus, but I would like to see a much bigger sense of urgency from the federal CIO. "Learning opportunities" are all well and good, but this is the centerpiece of ObamaCare, the single biggest priority of the Obama administration. Save the learning opportunities for the smaller stuff.
MyW0r1d
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MyW0r1d,
User Rank: Strategist
10/31/2013 | 2:19:33 PM
re: Federal CIO Urges Bold Vision For Government IT
He is a FedGovt manager and I would not expect him to criticize anything his employer does. Nothing is a failure because there are only opportunities to improve, I am good/you are good, even if it costs millions go for the win/win, touchy feely gibberish = zero responsibility or accountability. The statement is only further evidence of a "its not my pocketbook" mindset and why it failed and programs like this will continue to fail, be largely over cost and/or delayed (like the FBI case management or weapons background check system).
It isn't that I disagree with some of his affirmations (they are so generalized one couldn't really), but you cannot just talk the talk. If Healthcare.gov was developed following some of these modular development best practices, then it is clear they ignored failures of critical milestones which would have indicated to his strategic level that the tactical level was not prepared for rollout even after years in development.
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
10/30/2013 | 7:36:30 PM
re: Federal CIO Urges Bold Vision For Government IT
Marrying usability with modularity is a formula for a services-oriented architecture.Everybody talks about it. If the federal government could do it, that would be a huge step forward in terms of containing federal IT costs. It's also a way to build applications that transition easily into the cloud.
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