The Trump administration is preparing to fill two of the top governmentwide technology executives roles in the next two weeks. And early returns on those in the running aren’t positive.
Multiple sources confirm President Donald Trump plans to name Basil Parker as the new federal chief information officer and Camilo Sandoval as the new federal chief information security officer.
Parker is currently the chief of staff at the Office of Personnel Management, and spent almost his entire career in the private sector before coming to OPM in 2018. He would replace Suzette Kent, who left in July.
Sandoval, who previously served as the acting CIO at the Veterans Affairs Department for a year in 2018, has been a senior advisor in the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of the Federal CIO since June. He would replace Grant Schneider, who left at the end of August after five years at OMB.
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The news that the administration was considering filling both those roles surprised most observers, and few people personally had met or knew either candidate.
Of those who have worked with Parker and Sandoval, the reactions weren’t good.
“The type of person you will get for 55 days or however long until the election, and what you would get if you win reelection are a different caliber of person,” said one source, who requested anonymity. “It also says something about your ability to get something done. If someone is appointed in a lame duck situation then they are a lame duck.”
One source called the decision to bring in both men “an insult” to the federal IT community because of what looks to be the political nature of the decision.
Another source called the decision a “train wreck” because of what they said was a lack of qualifications.
On paper, at least, Parker seems to have some of the right experience to be federal CIO. He started his career as a computer scientist at the Defense Information Systems Agency and spent much of the last two decades working in the defense and cyber sectors, including for Booz Allen Hamilton, where he oversaw IT and cyber initiatives across the defense and federal civilian markets and Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) Federal, where he led and managed the federal and cyber markets.
Parker also has commercial sector experience where he was director of operations for a commercial sector company as well as a director of security for Value Options, a large healthcare provider.
But sources say Parker has been mostly quiet at OPM and hasn’t demonstrated any real understanding of federal IT in meetings.
One source who spent time at CIO Council meetings with Parker said he didn’t demonstrate any of the skills needed to be a successful federal CIO.
“To be a successful CIO, it’s all about influence. You don’t have a lot of control of things so it’s all about being influential,” the source said. “He seemed like a nice competent person, but didn’t show any thoughtful strategic skills needed for a position of this stature.”
The source added that Parker and Sandoval don’t seem to bring the same pedigree as those CIOs and CISOs that came before them.
“It’s like taking a car you been driving 100 MPH and putting it in neutral,” the source said. “These two folks are clearly not the kind of leaders needed to drive the agenda that [nominee to be OMB deputy director for management] Mike Rigas was talking about recently where emerging technology and cybersecurity will be important. It’s unclear why the White House went through the process of bringing in a strong leader like [deputy federal CIO] Maria Roat, and to then put in two folks on top of her who clearly do not have the same influence or experience. It seems like you are stepping on some of your best assets.”
A LinkedIn message to Parker was not immediately returned.
As for Sandoval, sources raised concerns about his short time at VA where he wasn’t well respected, as well as past accusations that he didn’t treat people well.
A group of 11 Democrat lawmakers wrote to the VA Deputy Secretary in May 2018 distressed over the naming of Sandoval as the acting VA CIO.
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Before coming to VA, Sandoval also worked as the senior White House advisor for the Department of the Treasury.
After Sandoval left VA, he joined MCI, Inc., in November 2019 as its president and CIO. MCI says it’s a high tech data-driven business process outsourcing and digital experience provider based in Iowa City, Iowa. He also held management roles in risk and information management for American Express, for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, for FISERV, and in software engineering for American Airlines. He also is a veteran, having served in the Air Force, and for the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland (29th Intelligence Squadron) and Misawa Cryptologic Operations Center (MCOC) in Misawa, Japan (301st Intelligence Squadron).
A LinkedIn message to Sandoval seeking comment was not immediately returned.
“The concern is both of these men will turn federal IT into a partisan conversation,” said another source. “For IT to work, it doesn’t help anyone to make it partisan. No one wants to see the CIO community distracted or insulted at this point in the year, given everything that has to do with COVID, the budget and so many other things going on.”
Another source said Parker and Sandoval will not have a lot of time to do much either positively or negatively, especially if there is a change in administration.
“The best they can hope to do is to make some shifts in budget but that changes if there is a new administration. But they are not going to get any big policy movements from OMB in four months. They really are just more like a caretaker,” the source said. “If President Trump wins a second term, they will have a head start after the election. It’s a fine bet for the administration to make, but you shouldn’t expect much to happen over the next four months. This seems to be more about hedging against career folks managing the transition. I believe political appointees will be involved if there is a transition.”
MeriTalk first reported the news about Parker and Sandoval.