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New CIO Steven VanRoekel Describes His Biggest Challenge: 'Doing More With Less'

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CIO STEVEN VANROEKEL
AP

When he takes office as the second-ever U.S. Chief Information Officer on Friday, Steven VanRoekel will be expected to manage the government's information technology strategy in a way that boosts openness, security and productivity -- all while the government faces over $2 trillion in spending cuts.

"Doing more with less" will be the biggest challenge he faces in his new role, VanRoekel said during a call with reporters. He will be replacing Vivek Kundra, who is leaving for a fellowship at Harvard University after two years at the post.

VanRoekel will oversee an information technology budget worth $80 billion -- more than Microsoft's total revenue last year -- but he must also make do with decreased funding for efforts like the Electronic Government Fund -- a program that spearheaded online transparency initiatives like usaspending.gov -- which saw its budget slashed from $34 million to $8 million.

Though the economics have changed, he said that people inside and outside the government are asking technology to do more for them than ever before.

"Expectations are going up both from citizens and federal employees to really have a 21st century experience," VanRoekel said during the reporter call. "We're at a unique time in the inflection of technology and use of technology."

He said that cybersecurity was also high on his list of concerns, describing it as a “very high if not number one priority," and added that he has already met with Howard Schmidt, the Obama administration's cybersecurity coordinator.

But VanRoekel did not offer specific details on how he would approach the issue, which has taken on greater importance as cyberattacks aimed at public and private institutions have escalated. On Wednesday, researchers identified a massive, global cyberspying operation that stole national secrets, emails and other sensitive information.

VanRoekel, a former Microsoft executive who had previously served as the managing director of the Federal Communications Commission, emphasized the need for the government to learn from the private sector to more effectively incorporate technology. He lamented that the government "hasn't kept pace" with many improvements in tech, such as web-based software programs, but added that he was optimistic that federal agencies could evolve.

"What I experienced in going from the private sector into government is that the pace of innovation you experience in the private sector doesn't need to slow down. Re-imagining government through the operating principles that exist in the private sector is possible," he said. "What I'm most excited about is the ability to scale that across the government."

During his tenure as the managing director of FCC, VanRoekel earned praise for growing the organization's social media presence (@FCC now has over 400,000 Twitter followers), crowd-sourcing data with help from citizens for projects like the National Broadband Map, and incorporating "Web 2.0" principles, such as open-source software and cloud computing, in the redesign of FCC's website.

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark praised VanRoekel as "the real deal" in a Thursday blog post at The Huffington Post.

"Steven's taken the job held recently by Vivek Kundra, who's done a really good job of making Federal IT more effective and saved a lot of taxpayers dollars," Newmark wrote. "Steven comes from the FCC, where I saw first hand that he's really good at the same."

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