Tight budgets should not stall innovation, VanRoekel says

Although the government is driving initiatives in areas like cloud and mobile, it would benefit from taking some pointers from industry, said the federal CIO.

Steven VanRoekel spoke at a May 24 hearing before a Senate subcommittee on the efforts to reform  federal IT spending. Having worked in the private sector, most recently at Microsoft, VanRoekel drew on his experience to offer insight on what the government could learn from industry.

The two sectors have unique challenges, he said. In the private sector, focus is often on keeping costs low and value high, and zone in on results he said. Even with flat-lining budgets, the commercial sector keeps innovating, VanRoekel said. The government can, and should, take a lesson from that, he said. 

‘We tackle very unique things in the public sector,” he said, citing cloud computing, privacy and different elements of security that apply, as well as the consumerization of IT.

In addressing the different challenges each sector faces, Dave Powner, director of IT management Issues at the Government Accountability Office, said the sense of accountability “is much stronger” in private industry.

But the government is not too far behind on the accountability issue, having launched initiatives such as the IT Dashboard which allows for greater insight into details of federal IT investments.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Powner said. Agile software development is another area the government  should consider more often, he said. Agile development can lead to usable products in 90 days, not the many months that conventional development practices often require.

The hearing was the first one VanRoekel has testified before since becoming federal CIO in August 2011. It was before the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and  International Security.

About the Author

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

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