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Federal CIO Q&A: Security, Sequestration And More

Biggest challenge in realizing agile, efficient government IT continues to be the required cultural change, says Federal CIO Steve VanRoekel.

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In the 18 months since he was appointed federal CIO, Steven VanRoekel has been a change agent in government IT, overseeing a half-dozen tech initiatives launched by his predecessor, Vivek Kundra, while introducing new projects of his own.

As the Obama administration enters its second term, VanRoekel plans to "follow the themes" established during the administration's first term rather than going in some new direction, VanRoekel said in an interview earlier this month with InformationWeek Government. He cited "incredible progress" in federal IT reform and transformation.

That doesn't mean VanRoekel won't shake things up. At $79 billion, the federal IT budget has been flat for four years, and spending might get even tighter. In planning for fiscal 2014, VanRoekel advised the CIOs of federal agencies to plan for 10% budget cuts. With downward pressure on tech spending and the specter of sequestration looming, federal IT teams have little choice but to work differently.

[ Want to know the secret sauce to government IT success? We Must Run Government IT Like A Startup. ]

VanRoekel laid out his IT priorities and plans for the year ahead and for the Obama administration's second term. He discussed the need to innovate and to bolster cyberdefenses, while arguing against the need for new legislation aimed at federal IT reform.

InformationWeek Government: In recent testimony on Capitol Hill, you outlined three priorities for this term: innovating for the American people, improving the return on investment for federal IT and enhancing cybersecurity.

VanRoekel: Innovate, deliver and protect. If you look at the history, the way you looked at IT spending in federal government is that to do new things, we built a culture where we had to spend money. In the prior administration, we were growing IT spending about 7% a year on a compound annual rate, and if you draw that curve out into the future, we'd be well over $100 billion in spending now on technology. The President took it flat, and under my watch we took it down a little bit.

All of that at a time when we couldn't be more dependent on technology and the pressures on the federal government to deliver around technology couldn't be more important. The citizen expectations, smartphone growth, cybersecurity, the fiscal pressure -- technology is part of the solution to all those opportunities and challenges. So we had to work on a mechanism to go out and find a way to live within our means, to continue to promote and advance innovation in technology, and do that in a cost-neutral or cost-negative way. If you look at the things we've been doing, we have been saying, 'Let's go out and ruthlessly save on things we can.'

The big highlight there was PortfolioStat, where I saw the low-hanging fruit in getting rid of commodity duplication. We're going to keep advancing that this year, thinking about how we move up the stack, starting at commodity -- how many email systems you have -- and with those investment dollars, pour that back into the cap-ex column and really understand how we're going to spend that on new ways of doing things.

We have to change the way we build, deploy and use technology inside government. That's really the innovation agenda: thinking about digital, mobile, all those things, and being very deliberate in our budget guidance telling agencies to cut a certain percentage and reinvest a certain percentage. We told them to cut 10% and reinvest 5% automatically, in these new ways, but to use PortfolioStat as a way of finding that.

Then, of course, cybersecurity, given the evolving threat, is important enough that it needs to stand alone.

InformationWeek Government: You mentioned three initiatives: Digital Government, PortfolioStat and CyberStat. Where are you taking those going forward?

VanRoekel: PortfolioStat was always intended to have a focus on continuous improvement, to think about how we keep the ball moving forward. A critical element on our team was standing up a new effort internally by building a small analytics team that can go out and gather data across the federal portfolio and understand what they're doing. Congress gave us some modest funding last year. That team is going out and thinking about not only what exists in each of these departments, how many email servers are running, how many this, how many that, but also starting to look at how much should email cost … so that we can try to set a baseline that we can run at and try to figure out how we can maximize the savings and the ROI of our investments.

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John Foley
John Foley,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/26/2013 | 7:30:11 PM
re: Federal CIO Q&A: Security, Sequestration And More
Near the very end of this interview, the federal CIO says his goal is to reach a point where government IT is "modular, agile, and super-efficient." That may be the best, most concise statement of direction for federal IT that I have seen.
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