Feb 03 2017

Which Federal CIOs Are Sticking Around in the Trump Administration?

As the federal IT leadership changes amid the transition to a new administration, there is hope that career civil servants will maintain stability while new CIOs are brought in.

New administrations always lead to changes in personnel, and that has certainly been the case in terms of the federal IT leadership across the executive branch.

Big names who have been tech stalwarts over the past few years are no longer in their positions. Some politically appointed positions have been filled with career federal employees, while others may remain empty for several months. 

Here is a rundown of how the federal IT deck chairs have been rearranged in recent weeks and what to expect as the transition continues and the Trump administration moves forward.

Who Is Staying, and Who Is Leaving?

As Federal News Radio reported shortly after the election, some agencies have politically appointed CIOs who have already left their posts, have announced plans to do so or will likely step down soon. They are:

  • Federal CIO Tony Scott, Office of Management and Budget
  • Defense Department CIO Terry Halvorsen
  • Department of Homeland Security CIO Luke McCormack
  • Energy Department CIO Michael Johnson
  • Transportation Department CIO Richard McKinney
  • Environmental Protection Agency CIO Ann Dunkin
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development CIO Rafael Diaz
  • Commerce Department CIO Steve Cooper
  • Veterans Affairs Department CIO LaVerne Council
  • Social Security Administration CIO Rob Klopp

Scott’s last day was Jan. 17. He leaves behind a legacy in the Obama administration of pushing for IT modernization and streamlined technology procurement. No replacement has been announced yet.

Halvorsen said earlier this month that he would retire at the end of February. John Zangardi, the principal deputy CIO at DOD, will likely lead the department in the interim after Halvorsen departs, according to Federal News Radio.

McCormack is gone from DHS, and Jeanne Etzel is now serving as acting DHS CIO, according to the agency’s website.

Johnson left Energy in December, and, as FedScoop reported at the time, Robert Green took his place on an interim basis.

McKinney has departed Transportation, and his deputy, Kristen Baldwin, is acting in his place, according to FedScoop.

Dunkin has moved on and is serving as the Santa Clara County CIO. Steven Fine has taken her place in the interim.

HUD CIO Rafael Diaz is gone and Kevin Cooke, his deputy, is acting as CIO for now, FedScoop reported.

Steven Cooper left the Commerce post on Jan. 20, according to the department’s website, and a department spokesperson confirmed to FedScoop that Rod Turk is acting in his place. Turk had been the department’s acting deputy chief information officer since July 2016 and is also the Commerce Department’s CISO.

Council has stepped down, and deputy Rob Thomas has taken over as acting CIO.

Klopp said he had been asked to stay on. He told FCW he would stay at SSA “for at least the next few months” but did not provide a specific end date.

And federal CISO Greg Touhill stepped down on Jan. 17 after only four months in the job.

Keeping Federal IT Running Smoothly

Despite the shake-ups, career officials are stepping in to cover the IT leadership roles. David Eagles, director of the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition, told FedScoop that because the transition team has a dedicated cross-agency group focused on issues like technology and innovation, he anticipates Trump’s White House having “a very aggressive plan, for both technology and the budget, early, while they get their people in place.”

“It may take a couple of months to get those critical positions in there, but I think they’ll already have a plan, so to speak, that they can begin executing on the first day,” Eagles said.

Some agencies still have not had their secretaries and administrators confirmed by the Senate, which may delay new policies. Dave Wennergren, the Professional Services Council’s executive vice president of operations and technology, told FedScoop that acting CIOs may be “empowered to take action” but that “it seems likely that your actions are going to be focusing around continuing to execute the current set of initiatives, not some bold new change that might not stand the light of day once the new bosses come in.”

Therefore, acting CIOs should try to optimize their IT department’s performance since the new administration will be looking at which programs it wants to keep and which ones it intends to jettison.

“Be cognizant of the fact that new teams are going to come in with a new agenda, but for now, get things delivered for the programs that you’re working on so that you can demonstrate the things that you’re doing are delivering value for the taxpayer, improving the mission of the organization, so that they won’t be viewed as programs that are going nowhere and should be disbanded,” he said.


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