U.S. CIO VanRoekel: Drive Down Operating Costs

On one-year anniversary of Digital Government Strategy initiative, federal CIO asks IT execs to find new ways to cut operating costs to support new IT investments.
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Federal CIO Steve VanRoekel called on government and industry IT leaders to build on a year-long effort to improve the use of technology, and urged them to continue driving down IT operating costs across the federal government in order to fund new and more productive IT initiatives.

"We need all of your help to take from the 'OpEx' column and give to the 'CapEx' column," he said Wednesday at the Federal Office Systems Exposition (FOSE) trade show in Washington, in a reference to moving operating and maintenance dollars to support capital investment expenditures on agency ledger sheets.

With the final milestones of the year-old Digital Government Strategy initiative coming due May 23, VanRoekel sidestepped any mention of the status of several measures that are part of the Office of Management and Budget's IT objectives. Agencies, for instance, are expected to make high-value data and content available in at least two major customer-facing systems using Web APIs and metadata and make new strides in mobile-related procurements, among other requirements.

[ People without computer access can't reap digital benefits. Read Digital Government May Exclude 4 Million U.K. Citizens. ]

Instead, VanRoekel repeated the long-term goals of the plan, which revolve around "innovating for the American people, improving the return on investment in federal IT and protecting against advances on our nation's cyber networks."

He also highlighted how the collective efforts involving commodity IT portfolio investment reviews had already saved an estimated $300 million in government IT savings in the past year, and identified a total of $2.53 billion in projected savings over the three years.

His "hidden agenda" with the launch of the PortfolioStat review program, VanRoekel said, "was getting all the C-level executives to the table and see how to run a real portfolio review" and use the weight of evidence-based information "as a lever" to wring out duplicative commodity IT spending.

The review process is being expanded this year, he said, to incorporate "more questions about cyber security and where agencies are on the use of open data," he said.

VanRoekel said the Office of Management and Budget used the same process to "see what we were doing that's duplicative. We discovered, we had over 30 information calls … creating a huge burden at agencies." Many of those reports asked for a lot of the same information, he said. Now his office asks for just three reports, he said, that revolve around an agency's strategic plan, its enterprise IT roadmap, and its IT progress reports.

The push for greater innovation remains a central hallmark of VanRoekel's goals. As part of that message, he and federal CTO Todd Park used a TechCrunch event in New York a year ago to jointly release the Digital Government Strategy project and introduce the launch of the Presidential Innovation Fellows program.

The Fellows program is aimed at attracting entrepreneurs to help identify ways to turn government data into more commercially-usable information, similar to how National Weather Service data and now-ubiquitous GPS systems have launched entire industries.

A second round of participants is expected be announced in June, according to a spokesman in Park's office.

VanRoekel added that the fiscal 2014 presidential IT budget proposal includes a data-driven innovation fund. "All this is crawl-walk-run, and we're still in the crawl stage," he acknowledged.

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