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In six months, the White House has replaced its top IT leaders

Patrick Thibodeau | Feb. 23, 2015
Steven Spielberg's biopic, Lincoln, included a famous line President Lincoln may or not have said: "I am the President of the United States, clothed with immense power." That description might apply today to D.J. Patil.

Their predecessors in these posts all had strong private-sector credentials: Todd Park, the former federal CTO, created IT firms at an early age, and Steven VanRoekel — who served as Acting Deputy Director for Management for the Office of Management and Budget — once served as a former top assistant to Bill Gates at Microsoft.

Obama has long reached into the private sector for help on IT. He's had a long affiliation with Google's Eric Schmidt, who continues to serve on the White House's technology policy advisory board. But the latest round of appointments are striking in the range and number of Silicon Valley firms represented.

The White House may be trying to bring new energy to its IT goals of shared services, cloud computing, data center consolidations, agile development and better use of data. There's also the need for preventing IT boondoggles, such as the problematic launch in late 2013.

Obama's IT appointments face a challenge, however. The president's control over government IT spending has limits. Federal agencies and department operate under complex rules, congressional oversight, inflexible purchasing procedures, and other factors that make it hard for a federal CIO to set new IT course corrections.

The White House has budget sticks it can use. But the real strength of federal IT leaders is in how effective they are at influencing, evangelizing and convincing federal IT managers to move in new directions. Having people affiliated with successful companies may help with that effort.

One thing is for certain, these appointees have less than two years to make an impact. Obama's second term ends on Jan. 20, 2017.


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