Obituary: Jeff Koch was a ‘renaissance man’ for federal IT

The federal technology community is mourning the loss of Jeff Koch.

You may not know the name and that’s OK. But you’ve probably been impacted by Koch’s creative and practical work on federal technology and management issues over the past 20 years.

Jeff Koch, who passed away suddenly earlier this month, served in both the Bush and Trump administrations.

Koch, who served as the Labor Department’s deputy assistant secretary for administration and management for the last year, passed away suddenly Nov. 3 from liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer that begins in the fat cells. He had been battling the disease since 2015, going in to remission and out of remission several times.

Koch was 55 years old and is survived by Patty Stolnacker Koch, his wife of seven years. The couple is expecting their first child in January.

“Jeff’s sudden passing shocked and saddened his many colleagues and friends at the Department of Labor,” said Pat Pizzella, deputy secretary of Labor, in an email to Federal News Network. “Those of us who worked with Jeff at DOL during the Bush administration and the past year will miss his keen intellect and sharp sense of humor. Jeff’s combined expertise in classical music, personal computers and guns made him always fun to be part of any conversation.”

Koch, who was known for his twin passions of classical music and the Boy Scouts, was a true public servant. After a short time in the private sector, Koch found his third passion – good government. He came to Washington as chief of staff for Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) in 1998, and moved to DOL as its associate chief information officer in 2002.

“It was a shock that we are here but we’ve come to say Jeff Koch is worthy of the accolades he will receive in heaven,” Sessions said the funeral service on Nov. 10 in Alexandria, Virginia.” Jeff excelled in the exuberance of life and shined in the light of other people.”

Where Koch made his biggest impact on federal service was during his time as an e-government portfolio manager at the Office of Management and Budget, where he worked on the government-to-government projects.

Tim Young, who as the deputy federal CIO during the Bush administration and an e-government portfolio manager at OMB, said Koch had an “unwavering commitment” to improving federal technology.

“Jeff was successful in getting so much done because of his poise, persistence, and persuasion,” said Young, who now is a principal with Deloitte, in an email to Federal News Network. “Jeff was the colleague you went to when you had a large, complex, politically-sensitive challenge to solve. You went to Jeff because his response was always ‘Yes, and … ,’ followed by numerous (emphasis on ‘numerous!’) probing questions, some light-hearted humor and refreshing optimism and enthusiasm to get to a solution.”

Koch worked on the internal efficiency and effectiveness portfolio, which included projects such as e-payroll, e-travel and the electronic official personnel file (eOPF).

“In several contentious E-Gov governance board meetings, Jeff showed his distinctive ability to cut through tense moments through his wit, ‘unconventional’ sense of humor, and self-deprecation,” Young said. “He had this amazing ability to lead change by simply being his authentic self.”

As several colleagues said, Koch was the last one to turn out the lights at OMB when the Bush administration ended, sending emails to agencies 30 minutes before Barack Obama was sworn in as president.

“Jeff was a true public servant, whom I had the privilege of serving alongside at OMB for five years. He was an inspiration to those around him, dedicated to his work and achieving results. His loss is not only a loss for the community, but for the nation,” said  Karen Evans, assistant Secresary of the Department of Energy’s Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response.

On a personal note, I covered Koch during his time at OMB and at Labor, and kept in touch with him over the last decade since he left federal service. He never criticized the new administration, offering only thoughtful insights, historical context and direct questions about federal management issues.

Koch wore his passions on his sleeve and never wavered in his belief that a little hard work from a group of people with shared goals made anything possible.

Time and again, he showed the resilience in pushing federal IT and management issues up a steep hill, whether dealing with grumpy political appointees or frustrated contractors.

Outside of work, Koch enjoyed life. He played the cello in the community orchestra, lead a Boy Scout troop, and entertained the neighborhood with a super-spooky haunted house for  Halloween and mega slip-n-slide on July Fourth. He also was an Eagle Scout, a ham radio operator, a rare arms collector, a competitive cycler and played Ultimate Frisbee.

His friends and relatives called Koch a “renaissance man” for his varied interests and his ability to be feel comfortable in a tuxedo or covered in mud.

“For Jeff, it was less about the activity and more about enjoying the companionship of the people around him,” said his long-time friend Brian Carlson at the service.

Koch may not have been a household name in the federal technology community, but his impact will continue to be felt for decades to come and his legacy is one we all should aspire to.

There are few truer public servants who grace the IT community the way Koch did. For that, we are thankful and will miss him.

GSA’s IT shuffle, ODNI tour ends

In other personnel news, the General Services Administration is losing one technology executive to the private sector and gaining one back at the same time.

Navin Vembar, the GSA chief technology officer since 2016, is leaving to join CollabraLink to be the chief technology officer. Vembar joined GSA in 2011 as an enterprise data manager, became the director of the IT Integrated Award Environment (IAE) in 2013 to rescue the failing Sam.gov site, and eventually CTO.

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CollabraLink is an IT services and consulting firm providing systems development and integration, technology infrastructure support and program/project management services.

Meanwhile, Beth Killoran, the former chief information officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, also found a new job, as GSA’s deputy CIO. She updated her LinkedIn page Nov. 12 confirming the rumored move.

Killoran spent the last two-plus years as the HHS CIO. The agency moved her into a new role in August. She replaced Steve Grewal, who left for the private sector in January.

Finally, Tonya Ugoretz, the director of the Cyber Threat Intelligence Integration Center (CTIIC), is heading back to the FBI after serving for two years with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). Ugoretz will return to the FBI as the deputy assistant director for intelligence in FBI’s cyber division. She is a career FBI intelligence analyst who joined CTIIC as its first director in 2016 under a two-year detail.

She entered the government in 2001 as a Presidential Management Fellow and as an all-source analyst with the FBI’s counterterrorism program. In 2003, she became the first analyst to serve as the FBI director’s daily intelligence briefer.