The White House announced Thursday that President Obama intends to name the country’s second federal CIO Steven VanRoekel to replace its first, that being the outgoing Vivek Kundra. WanRoekel has been several different leaders in the past including a Microsoft executive and managing director of the Federal Communications Devision of the US government. VanRoekel previously served 15 years at Microsoft where his final position was as Microsoft’s Windows Server and Tools Division, followed by a year+ stint at the FCC starting in 2009, ending at this newest appointment.
While VanRoekel worked with the FCC, one of his primary jobs was to redesign their basic website and primary web-based face. Below you’ll be able to see before and after screenshots of the site improved by VanRoekel. He furthermore added a vastly improved commenting system to the new site as well. VanRoekel spoke in April about the new site design noting that it was “built in the cloud, and developed with open source software, and that the new FCC.gov lowers barriers to future development as part of a long-term IT cost-cutting strategy.” VanRoekel had one position between the FCC and the CIO, that being the executive director of Citizen and Organizational Engagement at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
On the other hand Kundra, who served as the nation’s first CIO (that being the Chief Information Officer) started his post as assigned by President Obama on March 5th, 2009, and recently announced that he’d be leaving the job for a new position to take a fellowship at Harvard. Kundra had previously been CTO of the District of Columbia. Kundra’s stressing of visibility for accountability in managing $80 billion in federal IT spending led way to to a Federal IT Dashboard where IT projects are rated by agency and photos of every CIO in charge of said projects are on display.
Some points are being raised on VanRoekel’s appointment to CIO. The first point raised is that VanRoekel donated $50,000 to President Obama’s 2009 inauguration festivities, this similar to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie Ballmer, plus Bill and Melinda Gates, all of this according to opensecrets.org. In addition, Google’s Eric Schmidt is serving on the White House Office and Technology Policy board along with Craig Mundie, the chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft.
Then there’s Ray Bjorklund, an analyst at FedSources, who notes that VanRoekel “has obviously been well positioned in industry” and that there may be trouble in the future: “You can’t take on major government positions like that and play favorites – that’s not the right thing to do,” said Bjorklund. “Industry may have suspicions, but they may not be well founded suspicions,” he said.
Whether or not there actually is any “playing favorites” or inappropriate selecting of candidates for official government posts from high-up tech posts is up for debate.