Federal CIO, where art thou?

FEMA’s David Grant announced he’s retiring in January after 34 years of federal service, while Kevin Gates is leaving the House Armed Services Committee.

Oh, federal chief information officer, where art thou?

Not at the Office of Management and Budget. Not leading the CIO Council. And not there to lead the effort to implement the Modernizing Government Technology (MGT) Act.

So nearly 11 months after Tony Scott said his goodbyes, there still isn’t a permanent federal CIO.
I know, it takes time. I was the one saying to others in the federal community to be patient. The Obama administration didn’t name a CIO or a chief technology officer until April/May 2009.

But with the passage of the MGT Act, the White House’s expected release of the finalized IT modernization strategy in the coming month or so, and the push to implement the Technology Business Management (TBM) standard, the time to name a permanent federal CIO and restore the standing of the Office of E-Government and IT has come.

And, let me be clear, this is not any sort of condemnation of the effort by Acting Federal CIO Margie Graves. In fact, the federal community has been positive and enthusiastic about how she has been keeping the assorted initiatives moving forward. But there is no substitute for a permanent, presidentially appointed executive.

That being said, there is some movement on the search for a permanent federal CIO.

Sources tell me a candidate met with a few agency CIOs last week. The candidate, a woman, is from industry, but sources didn’t have a specific name.

Other sources say the Trump administration is struggling to find the right candidate. At least two potential federal CIOs turned down the role, and at least one other didn’t make the cut for final consideration.

An OMB spokesman said they had no personnel announcements to share.

As a related aside, the CIO Council’s website has been down all week. While the lack of a permanent federal CIO has no connection to the council’s website problems, the irony that it has been down all week isn’t lost on this observer.

The site said, “You cannot visit CIO.gov right now because its certificate has been revoked. Network errors and attacks are usually temporary, so this page will probably work later.”

This means the CIO Council let its digital certificate expire from its certificate authority, such as Symantec, Entrust, GoDaddy or Comodo. Web browsers, such as Google Chrome or Mozilla FireFox, look for valid certificates on websites that use secure HTTP, and if they don’t find one, you may get a message or the browser may block the website altogether.

The council resolved the issue by the weekend, but what’s interesting about this issue, beyond the fact that technology leaders can’t get their website to work properly, is the CIO Council’s challenges are common across the government.

Website hosting and certificate validation are done on an agency-by-agency basis. As one frustrated federal employee said to me, “Why don’t we have a GoDaddy for government?”

The answer, of course, is cybersecurity and the need for the hosting platform to be compliant with the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). But maybe it’s not the platform, but the application that needs to meet the security standards. Sounds like a U.S. Digital Service project to me.

Even though there is only minor movement on the federal CIO side, there are plenty of other changes in the IT and acquisition communities.

FEMA executive to retire after 34 years

Let’s start with three significant loses for the federal community.

David Grant, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s associate administrator for mission support, announced he’s retiring after more than 34 years in government.

Sources say Grant is joining forces with another recently retired longtime federal employee, Greg Giddens, to form a consulting company.

In an email to staff, which Federal News Radio obtained, Grant told colleagues his last day would be in January.

“It has been my honor to work with you in FEMA for the past four years. I believe this is the capstone job of my career. I thank you for the trust and support you have provided me over the past four years,” Grant wrote in the email. “I had the good fortune of arriving at FEMA four years ago as the chief procurement officer where I had the opportunity to experience for the first time how FEMA supports the people of this country. That experience was expanded when I was given the wonderful opportunity to serve in my current position as mission support associate administrator, touching virtually all operations across FEMA. This past year I had the privilege of serving as FEMA’s acting deputy administrator, which gave me not only the chance to see first-hand how FEMA operates across the breadth of our agency’s operations but also the role we play across DHS as well.”

As CPO and then associate administrator, Grant led the effort to change how FEMA contracts during disasters. He told me in October that FEMA went from 15-to-20 pre-negotiated contracts to more than 50 to make responding to disasters more efficient and effective.

Grant also spent 14 years at the IRS, where he served as director of procurement and chief of agency shared services. He began his career with the Army as an intern and eventually became a contracting officer.

A second big loss is on Capitol Hill. Kevin Gates, a professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee who mostly worked on IT and cyber issues, left on Dec. 1. In an email obtained by Federal News Radio, Gates said he is joining Strategic Analysis Inc., as the vice president for advanced concepts. Strategic Analysis provides the government with professional services in a host of areas, including IT, business and financial management, and program and project support.

Gates worked for Strategic Analysis, in the science and technology consulting division, for eight years before coming to the committee.

“I am proud of my time here, and it has been my pleasure and honor to have worked with all of you (well, most of you; I’ll leave it up to you to guess who I’m not referring to),” Gates wrote. “More than a few times in the past, I have had people thank me for my service. When I think of the sacrifices other folks make in their service to the nation, I feel a little guilty about that. I also feel guilty, because this job has always been so much fun, it never felt much like service. My biggest regret in leaving will be the chance to work with this great bunch of dedicated professionals on a daily basis. My second regret is that I will no longer be able to borrow books from the Library of Congress.”

Gates spent 11 years on HASC. He will be replaced by Pete Villano, at least for the immediate future.
HASC has now lost two longtime experts over the last year. Along with Gates, Emily Murphy left in January and is on track to be the next GSA administrator — should the Senate ever confirm her.

Gates played a key role in getting the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) through the defense authorization bill in 2015, and pushed the Defense Department to address challenges ranging from counterfeit technology, to its cyber workforce, to improving its IT systems.

Finally, Craig Jennings, a senior adviser for the CIO Council, is leaving government in December to travel through Europe with his wife and write an art blog.

While many of you may not know Jennings personally, you know his work over the last four years. He helped coordinate the council’s work across government, ranging from the recent hiring fair, to the IT Solutions Challenge, to the several other initiatives.

Jennings also worked at OMBWatch — now the Center for Effective Government.

Trey Kennedy, who also works on the CIO Council, now will be the main staff member for the council.

DHS gets new contracting expert

Now, it’s not all people leaving the government.

Jaime Gracia decided to leave the consulting business and join the Homeland Security Department.
Gracia announced at the end of November that he would be a senior portfolio manager in DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate’s Office of Cyber and Infrastructure Analysis (OCIA).

In that role, he will help OCIA improve its acquisition and program management approach to cyber and physical critical infrastructure interdependence, and the impact of a cyber-threat or incident to the nation’s critical infrastructure.

Gracia founded and ran Seville Government Consulting for seven years, where he provided program management, federal acquisition training and business-to-government services to federal and commercial entities, with a specific focus on small businesses.

Aside from a six-year stint in the Navy as a nuclear engineer, Gracia has worked for large and small government contractors during his career, including Octo Consulting, Booz Allen Hamilton and LMI Government Consulting.

The National Science Foundation also has a “new” CIO. Sources say NSF announced on Nov. 28 that Dorothy Aronson had the “acting” title removed and is officially the permanent CIO.
Aronson has been acting since May, when former CIO Amy Northcutt died.

Before becoming acting CIO, Aronson was the director for the Division of Information Systems since 2011, and served as the NSF deputy CIO. In those roles, she helped link mission and strategy to IT tools to enable the NSF to manage the full lifecycle of proposals and awards.

Prior to coming to NSF, Aronson served as the director of the Office of Management Operations for the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency.

Finally, Cord Chase, the Office of Personnel Management’s chief information security officer, is taking on additional duties.

An OPM spokesman confirmed that Chase will be the CISO and have a short-term position as an adviser to the National Background Investigations Bureau leadership.

The spokesman offered no details beyond the fact Chase will work on IT issues for the NBIB while also being the CISO.

The decision for Chase to work on NBIB issues comes after a series of troubling reports by the OPM inspector general on the agency’s cyber efforts.

Maybe it’s just trying to connect dots that don’t exist, but it’s interesting that Chase also changed his LinkedIn profile to recognize the new NBIB position.

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