Articles

Rob Mancini Leaves Washington, D.C., for Private Sector

The former D.C. chief technology officer said he enjoyed his time in government and accomplished a lot, but now it’s someone else’s turn.

by / April 28, 2015

After 12 years in government and four years as Washington, D.C.’s Chief Technology Officer, Rob Mancini left his post in January with little fanfare, taking a position as director of IT Risk Advisory at accounting firm Dixon Hughes Goodman in February.

Mancini is replaced in an interim capacity by Deputy Chief Technology Officer Tegene Baharu. Washington, D.C.’s technology efforts enjoyed critical success under Mancini’s watch, including winning first place in the 2014 Best of the Web awards.

Mancini told Government Technology that he enjoyed his time in D.C., and that he accomplished a lot -- but now it’s someone else’s turn.
 
GT: Why did you leave D.C.?
 
Mancini: I really wanted more time with my family, and I knew that making another four-year commitment -- I probably wasn’t up for doing that, and I didn’t want to do that to a new mayor. I also wanted someone else to have an opportunity to do the job. I felt like I had to stay longer than two years to get anything done. I think you have to do that in government to get through budget cycles and to follow through on some of your initiatives. If Mayor [Vincent] Gray had won, I might have stuck around maybe out of loyalty to him.  

What do you see as the biggest accomplishments during your time in D.C.?

The Honors Laureates Awards were great satisfaction, not just for me but for the agency. Also the Center for Digital Government Best of the Web award, the hardest one to win. Those were of great satisfaction, not just because they’re wins I get to say happened on my watch -- they took a lot of agency collaboration to win and that’s the type of organization I wanted to lead. If you’re winning something that takes everybody’s hands on deck to do, there is a lot of satisfaction in that for me.

I [also was] happy about things I tried to focus on within the agency that needed a lot of internal attention. It had been outwardly focused and innovation-focused, and sometimes at the expense of some of the internal processes and disciplines that we needed. I dedicated myself to doing that and keeping my head down, and got those things done that I wanted to get done.

The other things we did in communications: doubling the size of fiber in the city from 350 miles to 700 miles, and using DC Meta as a center of excellence and a force multiplier for the government, there’s a lot of satisfaction there.

The cybersecurity operations center that we built was the only state and local cybersecurity operations center in the national capital region, and we were the first to build one. Dedicating ourselves to making cyber better in the city, it’s an ongoing thing, but we wanted to get that built -- and we [did].

We were focusing on digital inclusion as well, and making us a bit more of a public-facing agency and making an impact in the community with digital inclusion centers and broadband adoption work. We’re touching communities in ways we never did before, and that’s enormously satisfying. 

There’s the financial discipline I wanted to impart within the agency and I was able to do it the way I wanted to -- set the agency up for continued growth, so we [saw] 20 percent year-over-year budget increases. And I wanted to set the financial disciplines in place so that whoever came after me continued to use that to grow the agency.

If you could clone yourself, what would your clone stay in D.C. and do?

In Washington, D.C., there’s never a shortage of things that need to be done. There are always things you want to do better and do over again or continue to build on. I think at this point in time, having focused internally as long as I did after a heavy innovation cycle, the city’s ready for new innovation cycles now -- and you’ve got a new mayor who wants to do that.

Mayor [Muriel] Bowser is going to do a really good job, and having Tegene Baharu as my successor, who was my No. 2, that’s part of a succession plan that will help her innovate. That’s another reason I wanted to hit that innovation cycle and be able to support it. You don’t just want to innovate for the sake of innovating and not be able to support what you’re doing. Those are sustainable innovations now that they’re poised to make. That’s what I look at as the great hope for what will come after me, and I see two people are focused on it. I’m really thrilled to see what they’re going to do.

What advice would you give to those working in government IT who might have less experience that yourself?

Here’s what I would say to people who think they might want to try government and they haven’t done it: know that there are support mechanisms like the IDG folks and Government Technology. Once I got to know you folks, you’re public servants in private industry, and you were enormously helpful to people like me. Not just because you give out awards, but because you’re always there to give advice and help me connect with other CIOs and vice versa and to compare notes. The work [e.Republic] does by putting out information about what people are doing in government helps other people see what can be done and maybe gives other people targets. That’s very helpful, and you’d never know it coming from private industry that there are support mechanisms like that.

Being a public servant done with a servant’s heart and done with a real desire to make an impact in your city or your state can be some of the most rewarding work you ever do. People think government doesn’t get anything done. I am seeing more and more often in government it’s trying to move at the speed of private industry. I certainly didn’t expect that when I got in there -- that we could invest and change and adopt new technologies as rapidly as we do. That’s not something most people would expect to find, and it would keep them away from government because they want to get something done. If you can stick around for a few budget cycles, you’ve got a chance to really get something done in government, and it’s enormously satisfying public service when you know you’ve made something better than when you found it.

There are civic-minded technologists out there who want to impact how their government works, and I really see D.C. as an example of what I always thought we could do in government. We could get a level of interaction and integration with our public, we could have real-time relationships with government if we do it right and if we use some social technology. That’s where I think it’s going, and the advent of the civic-minded technologist is one of the reasons government’s getting better.

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.