It’s that time in the life of an administration. The first round of appointees begins to depart. They must decide whether to leave now or stick around for the election. These transitions occur earlier than a couple of decades ago because the election mode keeps creeping further and further back from election day and deeper into what used to be cruise-mode time for an administration.
I talked to one senior appointee with technology-related responsibilities who says he’s starting to see what’s out there, meaning back in the private sector. He’s accomplished much – but now, he said, he needs to start making money again. Keep in mind, career federal workers live under less stringent salary constraints than appointees, who are expected to walk the walk when it comes to foregoing raises.
A couple of notable Obama administration people left earlier than expected. Peter Orszag left his job as head of the Office of Management and Budget in August of 2010 to return to Citigroup. His real interests apparently were the 2009 stimulus bill and the 2010 Affordable Health Care Act, and less the grinding process of crafting the federal budget.
Vivek Kundra’s tenure as Federal CIO still garners debate whenever his name comes up. He left in August of this year, and is parked for the time being at Harvard University. He took ideas tested in the District of Columbia government and applied them at the federal level.
When Kundra came in, he succeeded Karen Evans, who, as a long time career federal executive, moved along many Bush administration initiatives launched earlier by Mark Forman, at an accelerated pace. Her deep knowledge of federal bureaucratic process, together with a surprising degree of political savvy - but not partisanship - made her effective.
Kundra launched several big initiatives, some more successful than others. I’d list data.gov as the one with the greatest unrealized potential. Cloud computing also has promise, and, as I note in the previous post, it is taking the most effort. The 25-point IT reform plan, the TechStat review sessions and a few others updated some similar initiatives of the Bush and Clinton administrations. They weren’t groundbreaking.
In naming a successor to Kundra, the Obama administration has taken a different route than the Bush administration did in replacing Forman.
Steven VanRoekel made it clear he is looking beyond the mundane day-to-day of bureaucracy when he gave what he billed as his first major policy speech not in Washington, but in Palo Alto, Calif. Specifically in the auditorium at the Palo Alto Research Center. PARC, part of Xerox Corp., is famous for many early IT innovations such as the graphical user interface.
His speech was a paean to all of the latest terms - innovation, transformation and so forth. But I think it was a missed opportunity to connect with a bureaucracy that’s been on a wild ride in terms of policy change and the crabbiness of the budget and political situation. I don’t say this to criticize VanRoekel or his motivation. I credit anyone who leaves a good high-technology executive position to serve in the federal government. But I think now VanRoekel should make the rounds locally, where career people and the contractors have been sweating over how to make the administration initiatives work.
As Wyatt Kash pointed out on AOL, VanRoekel has as deputy Lisa Schlosser, an experienced federal manager. She could do much of the behind-the-scenes lifting.
I should also say, there is at least one virtue to VanRoekel having made the speech in California. It could help reinforce the importance of the federal market to distant corporate decision makers who sometimes don’t understand the unique characteristics of government procurement. Often federal marketing and sales teams in the D.C. area have to work hard to maintain headquarter support for this quirky market.
VanRoekel promised to build on “the progress of the last two-and-a-half years . . . to drive innovation in government and make investments in technology that better serve the American people.” That’s fine, but he might have acknowledged efforts in this area that date back to even before the Clinton administration. Under George H.W. Bush it was called “service to the citizen.”
VanRoekel did get down to specifics, mentioning more “firsts,” a phrase that builds on Kundra’s “cloud first.” Now agencies will have XML, web services, and virtualization firsts. And he promised others that “will effectively establish a new default setting for architecting solutions government-wide.”
A tall order.