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Former Microsoft executive Steven VanRoekel has been tapped to become the nation s second Federal CIO. He will replace Vivek Kundra, who accepted a fellowship at Harvard University.

VanRoekel worked at Microsoft for 15 years, eventually rising to senior director for the Windows Server and Tools Division. After leaving the company in 2009, he served as the Federal Communications Commission s managing director, before leaping to USAID in 2011.

In an Aug. 4 statement from the White House, President Barack Obama expressed confidence in the abilities of VanRoekel and two other appointees to Administration posts. I look forward to working with them in the coming months and years, he wrote.

VanRoekel s job will likely offer some considerable challenges. The federal CIO is responsible for the policy and strategic planning of federal information technology investments. With the U.S. government looking to tighten its financial belt, such investments will likely find themselves subjected to intense scrutiny.

Certainly VanRoekel will find himself wrestling with a smaller budget, rising IT security threats, and considerable amounts of aging infrastructure. Kundra left behind a plan for improving federal IT, which included some ideas familiar to anyone involved in enterprise computing: the introduction of consumer devices into the government workflow, for instance, and increased use of the cloud.

Before he left, Kundra specified that all federal agencies must migrate at least one system to a hosted environment in 2011. Some had already taken steps to fulfill that request, with the Treasury Department moving its Website to Amazon EC2 in January. However, it s unclear whether his broader initiatives will remain intact, or if VanRoekel plans on shifting the tiller in a whole new direction.

Federal IT has experienced some high-end shakeups of late: Randy Vickers, director of the U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team, resigned July 22 with no explanation. The group is designed to blunt cyber-threats to federal networks and the .gov domain, both of which have been subjected to high-profile attacks of late. Philip Reitinger, deputy undersecretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security, also resigned in May after the White House released its cyber-security plan.

Security, the cloud and federal IT infrastructure constitute just a few of the issues confronting VanRoekel in the months to come. No pressure.  

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