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White House Appoints Steven VanRoekel as New U.S. CIO

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, August 4 2011

Steve VanRoekel

A former Microsoft executive and Federal Communications Commission managing director, Steven VanRoekel, will become the next U.S. chief information officer, the White House announced today.

VanRoekel will move from the U.S. Agency for International Development, where he moved in June for a brief stint as executive director of citizen and organizational management — but we know him as the FCC managing director who oversaw the summoning of modern technology and practices to the commission. From outgoing CIO Vivek Kundra, who is leaving for Harvard University, he will inherit a drive to cut costs while continuing to work on a modernization effort that will proceed with markedly less funding this year than when Obama first took office. The E-Government fund, which financed the development of signature Kundra projects such as the Federal IT Dashboard and Data.gov, was cut to $8 million this year, from $34 million. The federal CIO's portfolio includes government IT policy and procurement writ large, not just modernization and a slice of the work of opening up the government — but this represents a significant curtailment of the White House's ability to support innovation in those areas.

VanRoekel will also face the often grindingly slow pace of progress inside federal government, something that Kundra and others departing the administration have admitted was challenging to face every day. But he won't be a stranger to that. In an interview with Nancy Scola upon leaving the FCC, VanRoekel described modernizing a commission that, when he arrived, had an Internet connection so bad that "lawyers would have to go home to use LexisNexis to do their jobs." Under VanRoekel, the commission relaunched its web presence in a way that completely reframes basic functions like searching for and submitting comments on matters the commission is considering — a subtle shift, but an important one for people trying to monitor and influence communications policy. He described swapping out junk food in vending machines for healthier options. By the time he left, he could watch a YouTube video on the FCC Internet connection without slowing down the entire network.

While CIO, Kundra pushed to cut federal spending on excess infrastructure, with the federal Office of Management and Budget announcing before his departure that the government was set to close 373 data centers — facilities where the computers that handle web traffic and back-office operations are stored — by the end of 2012. He is also a champion of cloud computing; under Kundra, the General Services Administration began the process of migrating its email services to Google Apps — GMail, basically — and paved the way for other agencies to pick in-house or third-party cloud computing environments. In either case, agencies would be able to more efficiently distribute computing tasks across machines.

VanRoekel told the Times that he would continue Kundra's initiatives. From the Times' Steve Lohr:

As the government’s chief information officer, Mr. VanRoekel said he planned to move ahead with the work Mr. Kundra began.

“We’re trying to make sure that the pace of innovation in the private sector can be applied to the model that is government,” Mr. VanRoekel said.