Now’s the time for federal innovation, CIO says

Federal CIO Steven Van Roekel

Federal CIO Steven Van Roekel Caitlin Fairchild/

Budget, cyber and citizen pressure will spark creativity, VanRoekel predicts.

Tight budgets aren’t the only things putting pressure on federal technologists these days, federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel said Thursday.

There’s also pressure from cyberattackers that’s “unprecedented in its scope” and pressure from citizens trained by the private sector to expect convenient, Web-based systems for all their transactions, he said.

The bright side, he said, is that moments of intense external pressure have tended to force major innovations in both government and the private sector.

VanRoekel was speaking at the Excellence in Government conference sponsored by Government Executive Media Group. Nextgov is a division of Government Executive Media Group.

He described the origins of companies such as General Electric and Microsoft that were launched during financial downturns but succeeded because they offered cheaper, innovative services to customers.

The keys to spurring innovation under the current pressure, he said, is shifting to a customer-centric model for delivering government services, encouraging employees to take risks and partnering more with the private sector.

“We can’t let sunk costs or past behavior define our path forward,” he said.

VanRoekel spent his youth in the 1980s hearing that innovative Japanese business models were bound to take over the comparatively stagnant United States, he said.

“But what was happening during that time was this quiet revolution in the world of innovation,” he said. “We had the U.S. government investing in ARPANET to build the Internet. We had core investments in science and technology and education that led to places like Xerox PARC.”