Kundra's successor: Can the next federal CIO deliver?

So now it’s time to cook the meal.

Outgoing Federal CIO Vivek Kundra has dreamed up a government IT reform menu of audacious lines, but he won’t be sticking around long enough to see if it can actually be pulled off and plated, as they say on those cook-off reality TV shows.

That job goes to Steven VanRoekel, former Microsoft and federal agency executive, who takes on an extremely tough order in an increasingly bleak fiscal environment. It will probably require all of VanRoekel’s leadership and motivational skills to keep the situation from becoming his own “Hell’s Kitchen.” And some question whether VanRoekel, who with his wife has been a generous donor to Democratic causes, has enough head chef skills to deliver.

In fairness, Kundra had started some of the dirty prep work by chopping several underperforming IT programs, and he didn’t mince words about what VanRoekel must do. "Focus coupled with ruthless execution delivers results — that's the most powerful lesson I've learned," Kundra said during a briefing to announce VanRoekel's appointment.

The Obama administration was looking for someone who could execute Kundra’s plans, Jeffrey Zients, federal chief performance officer, told John Foley of InformationWeek. “This is not a situation where we're asking someone to come in and make radical changes,” Zients said. "It's continued execution."

On the plus side, VanRoekel has two years of experience as an innovator who helped implement elements of Kundra’s vision when he served as a managing director at the Federal Communications Commission. VanRoekel oversaw migration of the FCC website's infrastructure from local servers to the cloud, converted it to open-source code, and began numerous crowdsourcing discussions with IT developers and the public.

But does VanRoekel, who was chosen for the CIO job over other much discussed possible candidates such as Veterans Affairs Department CIO Roger Baker and Homeland Security Department CIO Richard Spires, have the needed leadership experience, asks Jill Aitoro at the Washington Business Journal.

VanRoekel has “yet to be at the helm, dictating policy to a group as disparate as the federal government’s agencies and wielding influence over budgets, defining how agencies should spend billions in IT dollars,” Aitoro writes.

Foley called VanRoekel’s lack of CIO experience impossible to ignore, particularly in the current climate.

“Driving change will be twice as difficult at this point in the political cycle,” Foley writes. “With President Obama in the second half of his term and budget cuts looming across government, the federal CIO will have to apply all of his motivational and collaborative skills to keep agency CIOs and federal IT managers and staff working toward common goals.”

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