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Election Turnover Brings Pink Slips to Agency Heads

Just 14 months into his tenure, a mayoral transition is forcing CTO Bryan Sivak to look for work.

To an outsider, the constant shuffling of government appointees in and out of positions can seem mundane. It’s easy to forget that real lives are affected when new government officials are elected and they perform a clean sweep of existing employees.

In many cases, the C-level government executive is out the door sooner than he or she expects. Such was the case for Bryan Sivak, Washington, D.C.’s chief technology officer (CTO). He admitted he was a bit surprised when Mayor-elect Vincent Gray’s administration sent him a letter last week telling him his services were no longer necessary. As of Dec. 31, Sivak’s 14-month tenure in office will be completed.

That means Sivak, like many other public servants, won’t have the opportunity to see his initiative through to completion. He was working on a project with the nonprofit Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan think tank, to help transition Sivak’s agency into a Results-Only Work Environment, but the project was scrapped after just a few months because of Mayor Adrian Fenty’s election defeat.

“What we were really focusing on was how to actually set and measure deliverables on a regular basis and stop caring so much about the fact that you were or were not sitting in your seat from 8:30 to 5:30 every day, Sivak said. “It was sort of a radical concept for government, but it’s one that actually made a lot of sense.”

But he won’t have a chance to carry forward. Sivak is not alone in that respect — some 30 states and the District of Columbia could have new CIOs come next year due to the shifted political tides.

Nevertheless, Sivak said he managed some accomplishment during his year-plus leading the D.C. Office of the Chief Technology Officer. One was improving customer service in the agency.

“One of the things I did when I first came in was to focus the agency on customer service both internally and externally,” Sivak said. “We’ve done a lot of work around streamlining the provision of services and then making the agency responsiveness much, much greater than it used to be.”

In October 2009, Fenty named Sivak the district’s CTO, replacing the departed Vivek Kundra, who accepted the newly created position of U.S. CIO.

Despite the perceived success of Kundra’s tenure, Sivak took Washington, D.C.’s technology office in his own direction. Citing concerns about long-term sustainability, Sivak discontinued the district’s Apps for Democracy contest, the first-of-its-kind program that challenged public employees and everyday citizens to create open source Web applications which integrated government data.

Instead, bridging the digital divide became one of Sivak’s foci. Using a series of stimulus grants and matching funds, Washington, D.C. planned a broadband training and education program offered in public libraries and community centers; an expansion of DC-Net, the district’s fiber-optic network; and better Internet connectivity in public areas.

But those initiatives will be left to Sivak’s successor, who will be picked by Gray. That’s what happens in this season of pink slips.

Sivak hasn’t yet decided on future plans, but is currently looking into different possibilities. “I’m exploring various options — everything from the local and state and federal levels in the public sector to private-sector opportunities as well,” he said.

 

Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.
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