In an uncommon direct move from federal to local government, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) CIO Ann Dunkin will become Santa Clara County’s CIO, she confirmed to Government Technology on Friday.
Dunkin is among the latest of the Obama administration’s many political appointees to head for the exit.
She follows Mikey Dickerson, the U.S. Digital Service’s founding administrator, whose last day was Friday; U.S. Federal CIO Tony Scott, whose last day was Tuesday; and former U.S. Chief Data Scientist D.J. Patil.
On Friday, Patil reposted a tweet from @CrisisTextLine that read in part: “Transition is hard and it’s an emotional day.”
Dunkin, who had traveled to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Friday to attend former President Barack Obama’s departure, echoed that sentiment and said: “We’re never going to have another day like today.”
But in an interview, she told GT the two agencies — EPA and Santa Clara County — are not as dissimilar as they might seem.
“Santa Clara County is a large county. It’s not quite as large as the EPA but it’s a sizable organization. It’s probably larger than some states and certainly larger than some federal agencies,” Dunkin said.
“There’s obviously a lot of things that are very different about the services that are provided by a county than by the EPA. But at the same time there’s probably a size and scope of work that’s probably familiar,” she added.
Neither Dickerson, Scott nor Patil has tipped his next move. Dunkin, however, will assume her new post on Feb. 16, taking over for the county’s acting CIO.
She’ll move from being CIO of a federal agency with 15,000 employees to leading nearly 800 IT professionals and coordinating tech services for county departments that manage their own software applications.
All told, Dunkin’s department is responsible for IT support to 18,000 Santa Clara County employees.
Santa Clara County Executive Jeffrey V. Smith praised Dunkin's experience in a statement as “… ideal to both leverage existing technology and increase the county’s capacity to meet customer expectations that increase every year.”
“Ann is a proven leader of change and transformation and the kind of leader the county needs, to maximize the use of technology on behalf of our customers, clients, employees and community partners,” Smith said.
Dunkin joined EPA in 2014 as a political appointee and also served as senior adviser to its administrator, Gina McCarthy.
Like Dickerson and many others, she’s considered a leader of the fed’s digital services movement, which ramped up dramatically after a disastrous start to the government's health insurance platform Healthcare.gov in the fall of 2013.
“A great deal of my work at EPA was focused on changing the way our IT systems served the regular community and co-regulators, trying to create 21st-century systems in service of those folks,” Dunkin said. “We were part of, and among the leaders of, a governmentwide wave to change the way we buy and deliver IT.”
At the EPA, Dunkin created the agency’s lnnovation Fellowship to expedite the hiring of short-term federal employees.
She also led development of so-called “agile acquisition vehicles” to let programs buy services according to demand — or at "the speed of need.”
Under her leadership, EPA IT also supported key agency priorities including e-Enterprise, which delivered modern environmental protection through better collaboration with states, tribes and the regulated community.
“It’s a familiar thing to lead an organization where not everybody reports directly to me,” Dunkin said.
Her EPA team also collaborated with the enforcement community to use data analytics for planning, and spearheaded cross-agency work to reduce the burden on the regulated community by automating several manual data submissions.
Of Santa Clara County, Dunkin said: ” I think it’s fairly clear there are opportunities to improve on our delivery of services to the community that will best meet their needs, that will be easy to use and technically advanced.”
She called it too soon to say what specific projects her office might undertake on behalf of Santa Clara County, but that a likely focus could simply be on efficiency — potentially streamlining hiring and buying processes and trying to purchase commercially available technology if needed, rather than rebuilding from scratch.
Those ideas, she noted, came from her time at EPA.
“I’m definitely going to bring those principles to the work,” said Dunkin, who was chief technology officer for the Palo Alto Unified School District before joining EPA.
Working at the EPA put a clock over her head, Dunkin said — but she called it a "career-high experience," one she hopes will be mirrored in Santa Clara County.
"EPA is an incredible organization. It’s full of really smart people who have foregone, just like at the county, lucrative careers elsewhere to serve their country and protect the environment," Dunkin said. "I don’t think I could have worked in a better organization at a better time for a better president."