In the last issue of Public CIO, I wrote about the potential for stronger cooperation between federal and state government, noting that Vivek Kundra was a champion for more intergovernmental dialog and better cooperation. Here we are a few months later contemplating what Kundra’s departure as federal CIO means for state/federal collaboration and a host of other matters.

As most of you know, Kundra left the CIO post in August to accept a fellowship at Harvard University. In his place, President Barack Obama selected Steven L. VanRoekel, who started work on Aug. 5.

VanRoekel comes to the job with a mix of federal government and private-sector experience. From 1994 to 2009, he was an executive at Microsoft, ultimately serving as senior director for the company’s Windows Server and Tools Division. VanRoekel also spent several years as managing director of the FCC and, at the time of his appointment, was executive director of citizen and organization engagement at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

It’s likely that VanRoekel will need every ounce of that experience — both public and private — as he confronts the task before him. It’ll be his job to push forward Kundra’s ambitious data center consolidation, which envisions closing 800 federal data center facilities by 2015. In addition, he’ll lead the shift toward cloud services, expanding open government efforts and improving the efficiency of federal IT projects.

On a conference call with reporters, VanRoekel said his stint with the FCC prepared him for the task of moving federal agencies toward new IT business models. “I had the experience of really taking an agency that hadn’t done a lot on technology and hadn’t embraced a lot of the work that Vivek’s team had done, and driving a lot of the initiative there,” he said.

On the same call, Jeffrey Zients, deputy director for the Office of Management and Budget and federal chief performance officer, said the Obama administration will look to VanRoekel to close the “technology gap” between the federal government and private industry. “If you look at the private sector over the past couple of decades, it has achieved productivity gains of 1.5 to 2 percent year over year,” Zients said. “The federal government has largely missed out on these gains, and the root cause too often is its failure to leverage the power of information technology.”

But as VanRoekel confronts these internal challenges, he’ll also need to continue Kundra’s legacy of involving state and local governments in IT program decisions. Kundra ushered in a sea change in relations between the federal government and state CIOs — and state IT leaders were understandably anxious about his replacement. The feds spend hundreds of billions of dollars on state-operated transportation, health-care and social services programs. And meaningful state/federal cooperation on IT systems that deliver these programs is critical to effective use of that money.

VanRoekel noted that much of his private-sector career was focused on Web services and XML technologies, which are fundamental to cross-organizational shared services. “That theme will carry forward into government service and not only cross-agency collaboration inside the federal space, but also the state space,” he said.

Maintaining and building on the momentum Kundra created for intergovernmental collaboration will be one key to VanRoekel’s success — and it’s vital for a nation that can’t afford to waste scarce budget dollars on inefficient technology.

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  |  Editor

Steve Towns is editor of Government Technology, and executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government Technology,Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market.