VanRoekel: Citizens expect more digital interaction with government

The next generation of citizens will demand more digital interaction with government, pushing public sector leaders to partner with industry to make it a reality, said the White House chief information officer.

Speaking at an event Dec. 16 hosted by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management and ACT-IAC, federal CIO Steven VanRoekel underscored the importance of technology and innovation in the government and discussed his key priorities for 2012.

With the consumerization of technology, citizens will expect to interact with the government in with help of technology. This shift toward a more technology-driven population has been seen in the emergence of a “Facebook Nation,” with individuals who are fluent in technology and know how it affects their lives, VanRoekel said.

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But he also acknowledged that few had known the impact Twitter, Facebook and YouTube would have.  “I think what we hadn’t anticipated was the effect of social media,” VanRoekel said. “We now have 80-year-olds who are getting on Facebook and embarrassing their grandkids, like my parents!” he added jokingly.

Those digital natives will drive changes in the public sector. Instead of cumbersome, multistep approaches to filling out something as simple as paperwork for Social Security, “they expect digital interaction with their government,” VanRoekel said.

“We have a nation of people who expect more,” he said, “and it covers the gamut of people who really interact with the government all up.”

Laying out his priorities for the new year, VanRoekel said he will focus first on maximizing return on investment on federal IT and “how we will do more with less.” But oftentimes, he said, the focus has been more on the “less” part: how many data centers were closed down, how much money was saved and whether a TechStat killed a program. “I think it’s equally as important to also give the message about what we are doing from the ‘more’ perspective, and always couple ‘more’ with ‘less,’” VanRoekel said. “If we go out and talk about something great we’ve done, [we should ask] how can we do that great thing in a more efficient way?”

2012 will also see more work in closing the productivity gap in a 21st-century government. “We as the government haven’t kept pace with the private sector as far as productivity, both as employees and the aggregate level in government all up,” VanRoekel noted. “There needs to be efforts put forward in thinking about closing that gap and bring these two things together.”

In his first 120 days as federal CIO, VanRoekel launched the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace and FedRAMP, and the same focus on cybersecurity will continue in 2012.

With FedRAMP, agencies now have a blanket purchase-like agreement to go in and buy cloud services that also meet stringent security guidelines. Traditionally, agencies had to go through the process by themselves, with a 30 percent to 40 percent higher cost, VanRoekel said.

“This is a great opportunity from an industry perspective to help us, as we crawl, walk and run through the FedRAMP process that is shaped in a way that is most beneficial to you and as secure and beneficial for the government,” he said. This will be the thing that lights the fire under cloud computing in the federal government and gives us a way to really ignite the phenomenon all up.”

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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