White House names former Microsoft exec as Kundra's successor
The White House named Steven VanRoekel as the new federal chief information officer, replacing Vivek Kundra, who is headed to Harvard.
President Barack Obama intends to appoint VanRoekel as federal CIO and as administrator of the Office of Electronic Government within the Office of Management and Budget, according to an Aug. 4 statement from the White House.
“I am grateful these accomplished men and women have agreed to join this Administration, and I am confident they will serve ably in these important roles. I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years," Obama said of Roekel and several other appointees in the statement.
VanRoekel appeared to confirm the appointment by listing his title as "United States Chief Information Officer" on his Twitter account (@stevenvDC). VanRoekel could not be reached directly.
VanRoekel served for two years as managing director of the Federal Communications Commission, which he joined in June 2009 with a mission to revamp the commission’s online presence, improve electronic reporting and transparency and release FCC to the public more effectively.
He left the FCC position in June, and recently has been serving as an executive director for the U.S. Agency for International Development, where he leads a citizen engagement and participation project.
Kundra, whose portfolio at the White House included initiatives for innovation, data center consolidation, cloud computing, information technology management dashboards, segmented IT development and Web 2.0 platforms, recently announced he had accepted a position at Harvard University, effective this month.
VanRoekel came to the federal government from Microsoft Corp., where he held various executive positions for 15 years, including managing cross-industry Web services and serving as a speech and strategy assistant to Bill Gates.
While at the FCC, he was responsible for administration and management of budget and financial programs, personnel, telecommunications, fees, the Universal Service Fund, physical space and security, among other items.
His accomplishments there included restructuring the FCC website on open source Drupal technology, moving the website to the cloud, organizing data with Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and initiating crowdsourcing discussions.
When he arrived at the FCC, the former FCC.gov website was sprawling and difficult to navigate, with 40,000 Web links available, which was confusing and lacking in organization for the average visitor, VanRoekel said at the OpenGovDC conference on June 14.
The FCC.gov website had won awards for excellence in the 1990s and had not been substantially updated since then, he said.
What was worse, the “404 message” Web page indicating an error or bad link was among the FCC.gov’s top five most visited pages, VanRoekel said.
Van Roekel said one of his greatest challenges at the FCC was overcoming cultural inertia and listening to customers, especially the million unique visitors to the website each month.
One of the his assignments for his website revamping team was to visit with the FCC’s call center in Gettysburg, Pa., for a day to learn what types of information people calling the agency were seeking. He also applied crowdsourcing tools, performed a user survey and used internal blogs and other social media to engage FCC employees in the process of change.
VanRoekel said the commission spent $1.35 million on the revamp. The new site went live in May.
At the June 14 conference, VanRoekel also spoke more generally of his philosophy about how government and commercial technology companies can learn from each other, and he strongly advocates use of XML and API to foster collaborative systems.
He coined the “.cov” term to describe his aim of merging commercial and government domains into a new collaborative and efficient environment.
Developers should try to understand the specific challenges of government agencies and to help foster cultural change, he said.
Government managers need to strive for cultural change, leadership and legal expertise, he said.
He also urged federal IT managers to spend for XML and APIs as broadly as possible.
“Every piece of data should use XML,” VanRoekel said. “Every access should be an API.”
Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.