Longtime federal technology leader Maria Roat says she relishes the challenges.
Sometimes, government tech problems are truly technical. Sometimes, they end up being more about the policy, people and other bureaucratic blockers around the technology.
Maria Roat, who retired at the end of March 2022 after a government and military career that spanned four decades, sees herself as being in the “construction business,” she says. “I build things.”
But the biggest challenges across her career haven’t always been technical. “I think the biggest challenge is really getting people on board and sharing that vision,” she told FCW.
Colleagues say that across her career, Roat was adept at the types of coalition building, bureaucracy navigating and persistence needed to get things done in government tech.
Roat started off as a seaman recruit in the Navy, working her way up the ranks to Master Chief, information systems technician before retiring. She eventually moved to federal government service, where her career included work across the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation as the chief technology officer, and the chief information officer of the Small Business Administration before she got tapped as the deputy federal CIO.
Former federal CIO Suzette Kent says that she knew Roat “both as a transformational agency CIO” and someone “willing to step forward and solve problems on behalf of not just her agency, but all of government” using the combined force of her technical expertise, ability to navigate government and leadership.
Roat “is not intimidated by tough questions,” said Kent, a quality evident in Roat’s persistence and focus on interagency collaboration tools while serving as deputy CIO – and an interest of Roat’s dating back to 2014.
The lack of such tools became a real problem for agencies in the pandemic, said Kent, but Roat “didn’t let it drop,” working to start a pilot with the CIO Council for chat and calendar tools across agencies.
Other agencies also benefited from Roat’s ability to navigate bureaucracy and build coalitions around problems. She led a modernization push at the SBA that earned her Fed100 recognition in 2020 and led the agency’s tech shop through the first months of implementation of massive COVID-19 relief efforts at the agency.
Even as an agency CIO, Roat had her eye on the federal enterprise, leading SBA to pilot a cloud “innovation sandbox” for other agencies to test tech innovations. As deputy federal CIO, she led a push to change the way the federal government handles capital planning, streamlining data collection on technology investments and launching the updated Federal IT Dashboard.
“I relish in the challenges,” said Roat. “Let’s figure it out. How can we work with it, get around it, do something with it and to get to that goal?”
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