VA departures open door to speculation

At least three people are rumored as likely to replace departing VA CIO Roger Baker. CTO Peter Levin, also stepping down, leaves another leadership role to be filled.

Roger Baker

Roger Baker, VA's CIO since 2009, finished his tenure March 1.

March 1 marks the start of sequestration, of course, but for the Veterans Affairs Department it brings another big change as well.

VA CIO Roger Baker announced Feb. 15 his intent to step down, followed within days by CTO Peter Levin making his exit publicly known Feb. 19. Both said that March 1 would be their last official day on the job.

Neither official has officially spoken about immediate plans, but sources tell FCW that Baker is heading to the private sector.

So far, there have not been any official announcements of replacements, but that has not stopped the community from guessing. For the VA CIO role in particular, three names have surfaced as possible contenders, based on their connections to VA and their background and skills:

Stephen Warren, who joined VA in May 2007 as principal deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Information and Technology and serves as deputy CIO for the department. One source speaking on background described him as "fantastic" and well-suited to fill Baker's shoes, but added he might not want the CIO role.

Edward Meagher, spent nearly 25 years in government and is a former VA deputy CIO who now leads VA and military health programs as vice president at SRA International. He previously also served as deputy CIO at the Interior Department.

Craig Luigart, who currently is CIO at the Veterans Health Administration. In a previous position with VA, Luigart served as associate deputy assistant secretary for policies, plans and programs, where he oversaw VA’s strategic planning, privacy policy, budgetary governance, and programmatic transformation processes for IT.

Whoever steps in to replace Baker will have to know the organization and have a leadership presence, and a vision to communicate, said Harold Gracey, a former VA principal deputy assistant secretary for IT and acting CIO at VA.

"If I were to sort things out in order, I would for sure go for leadership skills first," he said. "From a technology perspective, they don’t really have to be technologists per se; they just need to be smart enough to know when they’re being lied to."

The sheer size of the $130 billion organization also requires a certain type of person -- and those candidates could be hard to find, he said.

"I came to VA to make a career, but I spent a lot of time in the first years understanding the business of VA," Gracey said. "Roger was a little bit disadvantaged by not having the opportunity to do that – when you’re a political appointee, you drop right in and you've got four or, in the best case, eight years to do everything expected of you by your boss. That’s a rough assignment."

As a candidate for the CIO role, Gracey said, Meagher makes sense because he understands VA "and has his heart within veterans."

Luigart is equally suited for the role because of his "terrific engineering background and he understands VHA, which is 90 percent of what goes on at VA," Gracey said. "But overall, it really needs to be someone with a fresh view."

Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of the global public sector at TechAmerica, said while he was unaware of a shortlist of candidates, he hoped it would include someone who could carry on Baker’s legacy as an innovator.

"Roger made himself very well-known as a thought leader, not just at the VA but in the Federal CIO Council, the federal government and the IT marketplace," Hodgkins said. "It’s our hope that the person who steps in will identify, acknowledge and leverage the authority Baker held to really advance technology and innovation adoption."

Baker’s successor should also be someone who is not averse to having discussions with the private sector, Hodgkins stressed.

"Roger has been very open to input, dialog and discourse with the private sector and industry partners to understand what’s the art of the possible, what would technology allow and what can we think about doing," he said.

There was less chatter -- and less willingness to speak on the record -- about replacing Levin as CTO. But the departure of both IT leaders at the same time could pose a significant challenge for the department's technology efforts. VA also lost Deputy Assistant Secretary for Information Security Jerry Davis in February, when he left to become CIO of NASA's Ames Research Center.

NEXT STORY: Hagel sworn in to lead DOD

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