Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Saturday, August 13, 2022

U.S. Enlists Facebook Vet as IT Chief 

Stung by a series of high-profile IT foul-ups related to implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the roll out of the healthcare.gov web site, the Obama administration has been working steadily to bring some adult supervision to its IT operations.

The latest initiative is a U.S. Digital Service formed last year that has been staffed with top Silicon Valley technologists. The latest addition to the new digital corps is David Recordon, who previously served as Facebook's engineering director over the past five-and-a-half years. Recordon will serve as director of White House information technology.

He is also a founding member of the OpenID Foundation.

In a March 19 blog post, Anita Decker-Breckenridge, deputy White House chief of staff, said Recordon's is a new position "that will be responsible for modernizing the White House’s own technology."

The White House said Recordon would oversee the administration's "Smart IT Delivery" initiative aim at consolidating "overlapping systems, modernizing software used to collaborate and bringing use of new technologies in line with private sector best practices."

The upgrades to the White House IT infrastructure would serve as a kind of test bed that could eventually be rolled out to other federal agencies as many stumble toward cloud adoption. The most embarrassing example was the mismanaged launch of the healthcare.gov site by the Department of Health and Human Resources.

The Obama administration is seeking to regain the initiative through the U.S. Digital Service, which aims to leverage "the best of product design and engineering practices to transform the way government works…. "

To show it means business, the administration said it has enlisted Eric Maland, a former Amazon engineer and Twitter operations director, to help straighten out the healthcare.gov site and improve site reliability. Other IT veterans from Google, IBM and Microsoft have also been enlisted to, according to the digital corps' tag line, "make change at scale."

In February, the White House appointed former VMware executive Tony Scott to be the next U.S. chief information officer. Scott also will work with another industry veteran, DJ Patil, who was named the nation's first chief data scientist late last month.

Along with serving as the U.S. CIO, Scott will oversee the Office of Management and Budget's IT and e-government. The OMB appointment gives Scott control over government spending on IT upgrades as federal agencies shift their operations to the cloud.

Combined with it emphasis on handling private health data, the administration is also using its digital efforts to reform other embattled agencies such as the Department of Veteran Affairs. Ellen Ratajak, the third engineer hired at Amazon, has been enlisted as engineering director for the VA's digital service.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Digital Service said it is recruiting product managers, engineers and designers.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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