Ortego closes government account

John Ortego, who as the director of the National Finance Center makes sure federal paychecks are delivered on time, plans to move to the private sector in January after 32 years of public service.

Known as an innovator and creative thinker in the information technology world, Ortego, 55, has led the New Orleans-based center for five-and-a-half years as the Agriculture Department's NFC has become a showcase for centralized government services.

NFC runs the electronic payroll system for 125 government agencies and manages the Thrift Savings Plan, which handles the retirement accounts of 3 million civilian workers and this year expanded to include military personnel. It's also a key competitor for e-Payroll, one of the Bush administration's 24 e-government initiatives.

"I think I have effected the changes I set out to do," Ortego said. "To retire, you have to tire, and I'm not tired yet."

One of the reasons Ortego is leaving government, he said, is that he doesn't see "any relief from the government salary cap.... Obviously, there is money to be made on the outside."

Ortego said he's not sure what kind of job he intends to take on next, but "it's time to try other endeavors."

A native of Louisiana, Ortego led a Department of Veterans Affairs modernization plan as well as the General Services Administration's systems integration and data center business. He was an auditor for the General Accounting Office and advised former Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Texas) on information systems.

"John has had a distinguished and wide-ranging career," said Alan Balutis, executive director of the Federation of Government Information Processing Councils. "He's been a leader in the whole payroll/personnel cross-serving and integration area." Ortego is the current president of FGIPC.

Bob Woods, now president of education services at Affiliated Computer Services Inc., worked with Ortego at the Federal Technology Service and called him an "out-of-the-box thinker." Ortego was an early proponent of performance-based contracting and seat management, in which the ownership and management of desktop hardware, software and support services are handed over to an outside contractor.

"John's not a shouter," Woods said. "He's a person who gets the place on board and moving forward. He is a good communicator and stays with the message."

Charles Self, deputy commissioner for FTS, described Ortego as a "pioneer," a guy who "has an idea every minute" and an "innovative thinker."

Most data centers in government now have a disaster recovery contract, another idea Ortego championed long before it was pushed to the top of the IT agenda after the terrorist attacks last Sept. 11.

"He always had good ideas," Self said. "He knows how everything works, from a doorknob to an airplane."

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