Gauss retires from VA

John Gauss, the innovative chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, announced his resignation June 4, saying he wanted to take a break after 34 years of pushing the use of cutting-edge technology in government.

Gauss, 55, told his staff he planned to take two months off and decide whether he wants to "get back in the fray with a full-time job, do part-time consulting or just play golf." His deputy, Edward Meagher, will become the VA's acting CIO.

"We had an ambitious agenda, and we put a lot of things in place," Gauss told Federal Computer Week. "Most of the items have reached a critical mass where they are going to be able to carry on whether I'm here or not."

Under Gauss' leadership, the VA consolidated information technology systems, launched a virtual private network, adopted its first enterprise architecture plan and saved millions of dollars by eliminating redundancies.

"It's a huge loss," said one IT official at the department. "We think he was the glue that kept all of us together. He was the first person who even had a picture in his head about what VA should be."

Gauss faced many obstacles, including an entrenched culture in which each VA hospital could decide how to spend money on IT systems. Gauss changed all that by centralizing spending on IT and requiring prior approval before the VA's hospitals could purchase new IT equipment.

Under Gauss' direction, the VA got top grades from the General Accounting Office, which earlier had criticized the department for its vulnerabilities to hackers and failure to put in place a secure IT system. A recent GAO report said the VA had made "clear progress in addressing some of the critical weaknesses that have plagued its management of information technology."

Industry and government applauded Gauss' accomplishments. Rep. Stephen Buyer (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, said Gauss' shoes would be hard to fill. "Under Adm. Gauss' tenure, the VA is evolving into an integrated information technology system," Buyer said. "He initiated a disciplined procurement system and vigorously reinforced the department's cybersecurity."

Harold Gracey, the VA's CIO from 1998 to 2000 and now vice president of PEC Solutions, said Gauss "developed and pursued his vision of what needed to be done at VA. He was clearly a change agent and a man of action."

"Dr. Gauss has been a champion in charting the course of change at VA," said Tony D'Agata, vice president and general manager of Sprint's Government Systems Division, which handles the VA's telecommunications contract. "His commitment, drive and no-nonsense approach to business have resulted in significant IT and telecommunications improvements at VA."

Gauss retired from the Navy in May 2001 as a rear admiral and commander of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. He was selected to become the VA's CIO in July 2001.

"IT wasn't boring with Dr. Gauss around," said K. Adair Martinez, CIO for the Veterans Benefits Administration. "He put IT on the agenda."


Gauss' tenure

During his time as chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, John Gauss:

* Implemented an enterprise architecture plan for the department.

* Consolidated all information technology functions in the CIO's office, including budget and management.

* Controlled all IT expenditures.

* Restructured the IT budget after finding items charged to the wrong accounts, freeing up funds for new expenditures.

* Slowed the growth of the VA's $1.4 billion IT budget to 4 percent.

* Built a virtual private network that allows VA employees to have secure access to their e-mail and other desktop functions from any location.

* Closed unauthorized gateways into the VA's networks and implemented new security measures under the direction of VA cybersecurity chief Bruce Brody.


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