, ,

DorobekINSIDER: Helping find a new federal CIO – part 1

Hey there. I’m Christopher Dorobek — the DorobekINSIDER — and welcome GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER… where we focus on six words: Helping government do its job better.

Who will be the new federal chief information officer? It has been something of a parlor game for months, ever since Steve VanRoekel announced he was stepping down from that post in September to join the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In the days ahead, we will join that parlor game. We continue to hear that Mikey Dickerson, the former Google executive who is leading the White House digital services team, really wants the job but that there continues to be an internal debate about whether the White House should go for an insider or an outsider.

More on the parlor game in the days ahead, but…

Given the mission of GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER — to help government do its job better — I asked some of the brightest people for their insights on not only who should be the new federal CIO… but what qualities that person should have… and what should the big issues be.

The note I sent:

I’m sending this to a select group of people who I respect because of your insights…

As you well know, the parlor game is going on — who will be the next federal CIO. So… I’m asking some of the best and the brightest… not only that, but also what qualities that person should have… and what issues that person should address.

There will be NO names associated with this — no titles even… nothing to identify you other than ‘some of the smartest people I know.’

So… four simple questions:

(The somewhat fun questions…)

Who WILL be the next federal CIO?

Who SHOULD be the next federal CIO?

(The more serious questions…)

What qualities should the next federal CIO have?

What three issues should the next federal CIO focus on?

In the coming days, I will offer their answers. Please note: I have taken pieces of their comments to put it in a more streamlined form, but I have kept their words and certainly their sentiment.

Today: What qualities should the next federal CIO have?

Here are what the best and the brightest said are the qualities the next federal CIO should have.

An insider… or at least somebody with a deep knowledge of large, complex organizations: Of the two dozen people I sent this to, there was near unanimous consensus — if the Obama administration wants to make an impact, the person should be somebody with knowledge of the workings of government.

  • A deep knowledge of complex institutions… someone who has never worked in government is probably the wrong person, especially this late in an administration. It takes a while to figure out and REALLY understand the operations of government; and this is very much an operational job.
  • This is a time to cement a management legacy, to put in place programs and  changes that will last, that will be hard for the next Administration to undo. President Obama came into office with an ambitious and aggressive management reform. To paraphrase the old realtor adage, now it’s all about implementation, implementation, implementation.
  • The next  CIO needs to know government and business and needs to get back to the plot of Clinger-Cohen in that the real promise of technology “investment” is in using technology to transform mission and business operations – this person must be innovative and creative because government does not have the cost data to construct business cases in a traditional sense and this person must have the guts to take that head on.
  • It is absolutely crucial that the next Federal CIO understand how the federal government works and can accept and exploit the fact that levers of power have to be worked and coalitions (as opposed to consensus) have to be built if the goal is to do more than just design websites and review portfolios for the next couple of years. You can have an outsider as CTO if the goal of that job is to push for the “art of the possible.” The CIO on the other hand, needs to be able to get some government-wide issues resolved and implementation progress achieved. The way the Federal CIO job is set up (with a small staff and not a lot of personal control), it is crucial that the person have some experience in how to make the “levers of power” work in government, build coalitions, get other people involved/aligned to the work, etc.  This administration is skewing a little too much towards the “outsider” – and it’s affecting driving significant and lasting change. And, the Federal CIO must be “visibly present” – relentless communicating the message – what will be done, how it will be done, and most importantly, why it matters…  I’d say adept at working successfully in government on complex issues that cross organizational boundaries.
  • Understand federal IT, have an existing plan to make an impact, be an actual leader for federal IT.

A leader — this was the second most mentioned characteristic

  • Lead.  Simply lead.  Show how leading organizations are using technology to gain visibility and transform operations then ask congress for the reforms needed in the financial, human capital, acquisition and operational processes needed to create meaningful business cases and transform operations in government.
  • The person also must be brave enough to tackle to status quo and speak truth to power. This also requires taking the leadership in unwinding a lot of law, regulation and policy and practice that while perhaps well-meaning has created barriers to innovation or worse, created compliance exercises that offer little value but have spawned a lot of cottage industry.

A communicator — this was just behind leadership

  • A Master of Communication
  • The Federal CIO must be “visibly present” – relentless communicating the message – what will be done, how it will be done, and most importantly, why it matters
  • Effective Communicator — drive the White House and West Wing IT priorities and be on relentless soapbox with agencies and industry
  • Have a strong external presence

A person who illicits trust

  • Unwavering trust and respect with peers

A doer and collaborator

  • A doer (make change happen and show evidence-based results)
  • The ability and willingness to effectively and continually work across functional communities
  • Strengths at both process change and technology adoption

A thinker

    • Forward thinker, but pragmatic and effective enterprise level implementer


Next: What issues should the new federal CIO take on.

GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER on social media:


Leave a Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply