Darren Ash is returning to the role of agency chief information officer.
Federal News Network has confirmed Ash will start as the Interior Department’s new CIO on Sept. 12. He comes over to Interior from the Agriculture Department where he spent the last six years as the associate CIO of the Farm Service Agency.
Ash will replace Bill Vajda, who left in January to take over the top technology role for the Wyoming state government. Vajda had been CIO for almost three years.
Deborah Hartley, the deputy CIO, has been the acting CIO since Vajda left nine months ago.
Emails to Interior seeking comment were not returned.
In returning to be an agency CIO, Ash inherits a $1.67 billion IT budget for 2022. Interior requested $1.72 billion for 2023.
The request also includes $118.7 million for Interior’s working capital fund that would be used for several priorities, including strengthening cybersecurity and the IT supply chain, enhancing the enterprise financial management system, improving data management, evaluating program effectiveness and modernizing the Law Enforcement Records Management System (LERMS) and field communications infrastructure.
Among the cyber priorities Ash will oversee is spending $44.3 million on implementing several enterprise tools to fill critical gaps like mobility and endpoint defender protection, incident response teams and security information and event management (SIEM) system.
Interior said funding the mobility and endpoint tool will let them discontinue the use of older tools and save about $3.8 million annually.
Additionally, Ash would receive $11.6 million from the fund for departmentwide IT modernization efforts for its law enforcement records system. Interior plans to “migrate the department’s law enforcement systems to a unified, modern, secure records management system. The LERMS will support law enforcement personnel in remote areas without internet access to electronically enter and transmit data, including pictures and video,” the budget justification stated. “The budget includes $600,000 for Interior’s Office of the Chief Information Officer to coordinate Department of the Interior Field Communications Modernization (DIFCOM) across the bureaus to deploy remote broadband connectivity and provide employees in the field with voice, video and data capabilities for all missions.”
Interior has been making progress in moving certain capabilities to the cloud, including O365 and implementing the architecture under Trusted Internet Connections 3.0.
The Federal IT Dashboard says Interior has some challenges with its major IT programs. The latest dashboard data reveals 65% of all major programs are considered medium risk and 32% are considered low risk.
Meanwhile, the dashboard says 83% of projects are on schedule and 75% are on budget.
Among his biggest challenges will be to reduce the amount of money Interior is spending on legacy technology. The IT dashboard says $1.4 billion is spent on operations and maintenance, while only $192.5 million is spent on development, modernization and enhancement projects.
This isn’t Ash’s first time as an agency CIO. He spent nine years as the top technology executive at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where he began the agency’s move to the cloud and initiated a broader use of mobile devices. He also served as the Transportation Department’s association CIO for IT investment management and began his career in the Treasury Department.