Fed CIO Steven VanRoekel Aims to Root Out IT Waste


By Tony Kontzer

Two months into his tenure as the nation's CIO, Steve VanRoekel made his first public appearance on October 25--appropriately enough, at a meeting of Silicon Valley's vaunted Churchill Club. VanRoekel, who promoted his speech on the official White House blog, chose to use the occasion to ramp up pressure--on himself and the bevy of government IT leaders who answer to him.

VanRoekel made it clear he would be picking up where predecessor Vivek Kundra left off by mandating continued adoption of cloud computing by federal agencies and pushing for sweeping data center consolidation. In fact, he said he was beefing up expectations on that front, changing the criteria so that data centers as small as 100 square feet would be included. Kundra had set 500 square feet as the minimum size for consolidation targets. VanRoekel wants to close 1,000 of the 2,900 existing federal data centers by 2015. If successful, VanRoekel estimates the effort will save taxpayers $5 billion, $2 billion more than under Kundra's plan.

In his comments, VanRoekel also added some goals of his own, calling for innovation beyond the cloud and consolidation efforts, and introducing an initiative called "Shared First" that will attempt to root out waste in federal IT by turning frequently to commodity IT offerings, leveraging existing IT investments, and applying proven IT best practices across all agencies.

All of this sounds grand, but the proof will be in the pudding. All we have now is the recipe, and as we all know, follow-up in the form of execution ultimately will tell us whether he succeeds. And with the U.S. economy in tatters, VanRoekel should look to widespread unrest among the CIOs of European nations as a cautionary tale before he over-commits to new technologies, only to watch things get worse.

In the meantime, VanRoekel is also facing external pressure from Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who wants the floundering USAJobs.gov federal job search site to once again be outsourced to a private sector company amid numerous problems since it was taken over by the Office of Personnel Management. Kerry's position got some extra punch this week when the USAJobs site experienced a hardware-related outage. The site, which was originally run by Monster.com (which happens to be based in Kerry's home state), was re-launched by OMB last month and has since been the subject of thousands of complaints.

One of VanRoekel's toughest tasks will be to determine how much he allows such external stimuli to distract him from his stated agenda. When he was first named Kundra's replacement, I questioned the wisdom of hiring someone with no previous large-scale IT leadership experience. Likewise, if he can remain focused enough to right the nation's clunky IT ship, I'll be among the first to congratulate him.


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