Federal CIOs prepare for the transition

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Many federal Chief Information Officers are preparing for the inevitable on Jan. 20, when those who are political appointees will more than likely step away from their leadership roles in federal IT.

“There’s actually a relatively small number of CIOs who are political,” Environmental Protection Agency CIO Ann Dunkin said at FedScoop’s FedTalks 2016. “So there seems to be a lot of continuity.”

Despite that, Dunkin noted that agencies such as hers with a politically appointed CIO “are going to be more impacted.”

“I think we’ve all been trying to prepare our agencies,” she said. “I know I have been trying to prepare my own.”

One move Dunkin made was hiring a permanent deputy CIO a few months ago.

“You know I hired him with the transition in mind, you know, someone who can carry the agency forward for potentially two years,” she said.

Department of Veterans Affairs CIO LaVerne Council has been imparting confidence on her staff prior to her departure next year, particularly by building an IT framework that has all the pieces necessary for success in her absence.

“What’s going to happen to us?” she said her staff asks. “Nothing’s going to happen. We have a plan. You navigated it. You’ve seen that you can. You understand what’s next.”

She added: “If that plan existed when I arrived, I would have gotten on board with you and helped make it even better. Now it’s here — you go.”

Dunkin said her office has worked to build structures across the EPA that will keep the momentum going.

In particular, she said she doesn’t want modernization work “to fall by the wayside,” in a new administration, but she said she doesn’t think that will happen.

“I think that any administration that comes in is going to recognize the importance of IT modernization,” she said, noting it was a nonpartisan issue.

“No matter who’s in the White House, we’ll be able to successfully carry those things forward,” she said.

Council said the transition “is no big deal,” and she expects her successor to lead similarly when the time comes.

“You don’t restart — you just regain that energy and help them and guide them and move them forward,” Council said.

Ever since Council took over as CIO last May, she’s had the January end date in mind with no intention of leaving any sooner, despite the mountain of adversity she’s seen while in office.

“I’ve been saying from the beginning, I’m going to be here until Jan. 20,” Council said. “That was the commitment that I made — that was the tour of duty, and I take that tour and my responsibility seriously.”

In fact, she’s endured 15 hearings in a year’s time in Congress’ endless hunt for answers to VA’s history of IT and cybersecurity weaknesses, which predate Council’s time at the department.

“Would I have ever thought that that was even probable? No, I did not. Did I walk into any of those hearings thinking I wouldn’t be successful? No I did not. The fact is I had a team of people prepping me and telling me what I need to know, making sure I was OK.”

Council said, “For us the veterans are everything, and that mission propelled me to do any hearing, any adversity, any innovation.”

Billy Mitchell contributed to this report. 

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Agencies, Department of Veterans Affairs, Departments, Environmental Protection Agency