Image: iStock/tupungato
Image: iStock/tupungato

The White House welcomes a new first family on January 20 as the Obamas bring their eight-year stay at the presidential residence to a close, and outgoing Federal CIO Tony Scott believes the incoming Trump administration needs to recruit "tech-savvy people that represent all aspects of life in our country" as he passes the government IT leadership baton over to a new pair of hands.

CIO Scott has been part of the Obama administration for almost two years, and oversaw big changes to government IT policy during his tenure. He hosted a gathering of everyone involved in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) before he departed

"It was great to see all of these people who starting right years ago really got into tech and started what I think has been a  pretty continuous history of opening up government data, of focusing on critical technology issues and i think also just recognising the increasingly important role that technology plays in everything that federal government does," he told Jason Miller of Ask the CIO on Federal News Radio.

Scott is confident that the new administration will be left with a greater than the one it replaces, but was reluctant to pinpoint his greatest achievement.

"I think of it more as the continuum of effort, of beginning to modernise IT in the federal government, of opening data, of focusing on some of the critical tech issues that from time-to-time come up and it's pretty clear are going to keep coming up no matter who's in office," he said.

Improvements needed

Transforming information system silos to shared platforms and a commitment to cloud were among the most important moves that his successor will still need to develop.

"There was a whole bunch of pretty heavy debate going on and to take a stand like that as we did eight years ago and to say this is a good thing and the government's going to commit itself, ultimately led to the adoption of quite a few cloud services across the federal government," said Scott, who was Microsoft CIO from 2008 to 2013.

"If you look at the hype cycle for things, there's always the early adopters, then there's a bunch of debate, then there's the trough of despair as people actually get experience and then there's the hard work that goes into actually doing the work to make the things operationalised in any institution."

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The administration's most important IT policies cited by Scott were the update of the Circular A-130 broad guidance for federal agencies and the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), which changed the framework for buying new technology and gives the federal CIO a stronger voice.

"What we tried to do there is shift from an older model to one of more risk-based assessment rather than checklist, and also one of making sure that federal CIOs are focused on implementing FITARA the right way, on creating visibility and transparency and continuous upgrade as a set of core principles around how federal IT is managed," he said.

"Probably the other big one that again based on number of calories expended as you know was FITARA, and that really was a very very important piece in terms of recognising the importance of IT and getting good governance in place across the CXO suite in federal agencies."

Looking ahead

Scott is putting together a 'State of Federal IT' report to help ease his successor into the new role.

"The idea behind it was, when I came on less than two years ago, there was no place I could go to sort of understand what was going on across this now very large enterprise and I had to run around and ask a lot of questions of a lot of people and you still only got a partial view of the picture," he explained.

"So pretty much a few months in I decided that one of the things that I really wanted to do for my successor was a vehicle to create a more comprehensive picture of where things are."

A CIO for President Trump

Scott has few concerns about the federal tech team that will serve under President Trump, but offered some brief advice on the challenges ahead.

"Tech continues to play an increasingly important role in every major institution in the world and the government's no exception," he said.

"I think you can count on very predictably that it's going to keep increasing, and so bringing people into the federal workforce that are tech-savvy and have a bunch of other skills as well is very important.

"We need people that represent all aspects of life in our country and that bring with them tech-savvy to work on housing, to work on our foreign policy, to work on domestic issues, you've got to have some strong tech-awareness and technology-background to really effectively take on some of the challenges that inevitably will face our government."