Rob Thomas, who has been the Veterans Affairs Department’s acting chief information officer since January, announced his retirement this week.
The news, first reported by Federal News Radio, means VA will see its third top technology official over the past nine months. Thomas took the helm as acting CIO earlier this year after Obama appointee LaVerne Council left government following a change in administration.
In an email to staff, Thomas – who worked for the government for 35 years – said he would retire in October. Thomas will be replaced by Scott Blackburn effective this week. Blackburn was appointed by VA Secretary David Shulkin to the department’s acting deputy secretary position in February.
While Thomas was not a permanent CIO, his retirement adds to the intrigue of a seemingly rotating door of agency technology leaders across government. His exit follows a wave of five other high-profile CIO departures at the departments of Treasury and Agriculture and other agencies, leaving 11 acting CIOs among the 24 CFO Act agencies. The Trump administration has yet to name a permanent federal CIO, leaving Deputy Federal CIO Margie Graves to serve in acting capacity.
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The White House weighed in on the recent federal CIO upheaval Tuesday. At an event hosted by Government Executive, Matt Lira, special assistant to the president for innovation, policy and initiatives, said it's “natural to have some turnover in new administrations.” Lira said there is a “recognized need” within the White House “to have high caliber talent in those positions.”
Lira said the White House Office of American Innovation has been busy behind the scenes, convening private sector tech executives and meeting with federal CIOs, chief financial officers and acquisition experts to gather how best to modernize government systems and improve implementation of existing laws like the Federal Information Technology and Acquisition Reform Act.
“CIO roles are incredibly important to this equation,” Lira said.