Leadership

VA departures open door to speculation

Roger Baker

Roger Baker, VA's CIO since 2009, finished his tenure March 1.

March 1 marks the start of sequestration, of course, but for the Veterans Affairs Department it brings another big change as well.

VA CIO Roger Baker announced Feb. 15 his intent to step down, followed within days by CTO Peter Levin making his exit publicly known Feb. 19. Both said that March 1 would be their last official day on the job.

Neither official has officially spoken about immediate plans, but sources tell FCW that Baker is heading to the private sector.

So far, there have not been any official announcements of replacements, but that has not stopped the community from guessing. For the VA CIO role in particular, three names have surfaced as possible contenders, based on their connections to VA and their background and skills:

Stephen Warren, who joined VA in May 2007 as principal deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Information and Technology and serves as deputy CIO for the department. One source speaking on background described him as "fantastic" and well-suited to fill Baker's shoes, but added he might not want the CIO role.

Edward Meagher, spent nearly 25 years in government and is a former VA deputy CIO who now leads VA and military health programs as vice president at SRA International. He previously also served as deputy CIO at the Interior Department.

Craig Luigart, who currently is CIO at the Veterans Health Administration. In a previous position with VA, Luigart served as associate deputy assistant secretary for policies, plans and programs, where he oversaw VA’s strategic planning, privacy policy, budgetary governance, and programmatic transformation processes for IT.

Whoever steps in to replace Baker will have to know the organization and have a leadership presence, and a vision to communicate, said Harold Gracey, a former VA principal deputy assistant secretary for IT and acting CIO at VA.

"If I were to sort things out in order, I would for sure go for leadership skills first," he said. "From a technology perspective, they don’t really have to be technologists per se; they just need to be smart enough to know when they’re being lied to."

The sheer size of the $130 billion organization also requires a certain type of person -- and those candidates could be hard to find, he said.

"I came to VA to make a career, but I spent a lot of time in the first years understanding the business of VA," Gracey said. "Roger was a little bit disadvantaged by not having the opportunity to do that – when you’re a political appointee, you drop right in and you've got four or, in the best case, eight years to do everything expected of you by your boss. That’s a rough assignment."

As a candidate for the CIO role, Gracey said, Meagher makes sense because he understands VA "and has his heart within veterans."

Luigart is equally suited for the role because of his "terrific engineering background and he understands VHA, which is 90 percent of what goes on at VA," Gracey said. "But overall, it really needs to be someone with a fresh view."

Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of the global public sector at TechAmerica, said while he was unaware of a shortlist of candidates, he hoped it would include someone who could carry on Baker’s legacy as an innovator.

"Roger made himself very well-known as a thought leader, not just at the VA but in the Federal CIO Council, the federal government and the IT marketplace," Hodgkins said. "It’s our hope that the person who steps in will identify, acknowledge and leverage the authority Baker held to really advance technology and innovation adoption."

Baker’s successor should also be someone who is not averse to having discussions with the private sector, Hodgkins stressed.

"Roger has been very open to input, dialog and discourse with the private sector and industry partners to understand what’s the art of the possible, what would technology allow and what can we think about doing," he said.

There was less chatter -- and less willingness to speak on the record -- about replacing Levin as CTO. But the departure of both IT leaders at the same time could pose a significant challenge for the department's technology efforts. VA also lost Deputy Assistant Secretary for Information Security Jerry Davis in February, when he left to become CIO of NASA's Ames Research Center.

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Reader comments

Sun, May 5, 2013 Vets4ever

Just read the comment about VHA, VBA and NCA being OI&T’s customer; sad to see the veteran has been forgotten again. Let’s fix this dead-wrong joke; the veteran is the VA’s ONLY customer! We’re here to serve THEM. The rest is a balance of providing people who provide direct care with electronic tools and resources to SERVE the veteran with the needs of the many others factions who want a pound of flesh from us. Along with serving the veteran by providing tools and resources to those who directly care for the veterans, OI&T has to try to keep those other special interest communities like InfoSec, Congress, FISMA, etc, happy too. OIT&T has been short-staffed by most industry standards for a long time and comparatively speaking the budget is pretty sparse too, but most of OI&T knows why we’re here, and those people walk and wheel their way through the doors of my facility every day and wait too long for appointments and the care they’ve earned.

Tue, Mar 19, 2013

Whomever takes the helm must understand OIT is a SERVICE organization that SERVICES the customer (VHA, VBA and NCA). OIT should NOT hold the purse strings nor determine what is/isn't important to clinicians and hospital administrator because they simply do not know...Enough with the OIT fiefdom building at VA...Time to get real and stand up an organization that aligns with its customers, not the other way around.

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 SulliTweanno

Not sure who would call Mr. Warren "fantastic", certainly nobody who has ever worked for him. He thinks he knows everything, listens to none of his experts or leaders, unless its contractors like Deloitte, who he paid to tell him what he wants to hear. Now, he is about to revamp Service Delivery Engineering (SDE)... An organization that he's completely alienated and run their leadership out of office through underhanded tactics, bullying and complete lack of trust in the appointed leaders. He "subsummed" all their duties so that he could make decisions for that org unchallenged... This occurring just as there will be a vacuum in OIT leadership.

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 Disappointed

Having not met either of the two gentlemen, I can not speak to their personal skills, but from the standpoint of an end user I can say that if either are replaced with internal candidates it will be 4 or more years of the same behind the times infrastructure. The VA is far behind the times in all aspects of technology and will continue to be unless new blood in brought in. Just my two cents.

Tue, Mar 5, 2013 TheVAdidwhat?

An outsider with a fresh view is absolutely what is needed now to break the stagnation that has enveloped the IT team. When measurement is put above progress, when metrics are more important that deliverables you know it is time for a fundamental change. Perhaps new leadership will stem the rush of senior execs in VA's IT shop going out the door..3 in the past 30 days, 5 in the last 60 days. A toxic work atmosphere I am told.

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