HHS CTO Sivak to leave government

Bryan Sivak, the chief technology officer for the Department of Health and Human Services and one of the leaders in the new wave of procurement thinking, is leaving government.

In an email to staff, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said Sivak’s last day with the agency will be at the end of April.

Bryan Sivak (HHS photo)
“Since joining us in 2012, Bryan has been a force for promoting innovation across the Department, designing and deploying initiatives that improve the performance of the Department for those we serve, and for our employees,” Burwell wrote in the email obtained by Federal News Radio.

“Bryan has championed some of the department’s most innovative projects. The HHS IDEA Lab has built an ‘investment pipeline’ through the HHS Ignite Accelerator and Ventures Fund which has provided tools, resources and training to department employees to experiment with groundbreaking ideas. The IDEA Lab has also been at the forefront of liberating departmental data, and in promoting private- sector collaborations to find novel applications for our data,” she wrote.

Sivak joined HHS in June 2012 after founding the software firm InQuira and working for the Maryland and the District of Columbia governments. At HHS, he immediately went after some of the most frustrating parts of the federal procurement process.

He developed the IDEA Lab and the HHS Buyers Club, led datapalooza events and helped to define the role of an agency CTO.

Opening the IDEA Lab

The goal of the HHS IDEA Lab is to break down the red tape and silos that many agencies face when trying to bring innovation forward.

In an interview with the Federal Drive’s Tom Temin in April 2014, Sivak said the goal is a more modern and effective government.

“We have what we call a number of pathways in the lab itself. These are programs that we run that essentially allow both internal and external people to engage with the overall structure of HHS in a number of ways,” he said. “One is called HHS Entrepreneurs. The idea behind this one is we ask people within the department to suggest some pretty tough problems they need to solve, but may not have the expertise on the inside to actually help them to get to a solution. What we then do is go out to the outside world and recruit people to come in for a period of no more than 12 months. That’s important because it turns out that if you only have 12 months to execute you kind of by definition have to do things differently.”

Over the last two-plus years, the IDEA Lab has worked on a variety of projects ranging from the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Challenge to Health Information Exchange Accelerators to helping the National Database for Autism Research.

The IDEA Lab concept has been so successful that President Barack Obama is asking Congress for money in the fiscal 2016 budget to set up labs in five other agencies.

Launching the HHS Buyers Club

The IDEA Lab then led to another concept Sivak led called the HHS Buyers Club.

The Buyers Club’s goal is two-fold: Bring new vendors into the federal marketplace and bring innovation into the government.

“Through the Innovator-In-Residence Program and the Entrepreneur-In-Residence Program, Bryan and his team have brought together the collective wisdom of a wide range of stakeholders to solve mission critical problems,” Burwell said. “And through the HHS Buyers Club, Bryan has revamped the departmental approach to technology procurements and implementations.”

The Buyers Club is part of a growing set of digital services groups popping up across government. The Office of Management and Budget launched the U.S. Digital Service. The Veterans Affairs Department is creating a digital services office that so far has about 10 employees. The General Services Administration’s 18F just celebrated its one-year anniversary and has about 100 employees.

The goal of all of these organizations is to bring an agile and innovative approach to federal procurement, specifically of technology.

Burwell’s email didn’t mention who would replace Sivak, even on an interim basis. Emails to HHS and to Sivak weren’t immediately returned.

“His work will have a long-lasting impact on our programs and our employees,” Burwell wrote. “I want to thank Bryan for the commitment and energy he brought to his position. His willingness to tackle big challenges, and always see the opportunities embedded within them, has improved the department’s operations, and the way we go about fulfilling our mission.”

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