Home » FedScoop announces the Best Bosses in Federal IT 2022

FedScoop announces the Best Bosses in Federal IT 2022

by StateScoop
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Gundeep Ahluwalia

CIO, Department of Labor

Gundeep Ahluwalia sees his role as that of a relationship builder. His current priorities are modernizing critical IT systems, automating workflows, investing in cybersecurity and strengthening the unemployment insurance claimant process. “One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to stay ahead of the curve,” Ahluwalia said. “You have to look at each project or request as an opportunity to build for the future and continually remind others in the federal space that IT work is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Dorothy Aronson

CIO, National Science Foundation

“A leader needs Integrity,” Dorothy Aronson, CIO of the National Science Foundation, told FedScoop. “It enables them to honestly appraise and accommodate for their own weaknesses, and to act on ‘the truth’ (whatever that is).” But that’s just the start. Beyond that, she said, “they will need Resilience to deal with the consequences, and not quit. Finally, leaders need Kindness so people trust them to ‘do no harm,’ and can hear, absorb, and align with the leader’s version of ‘the truth.'” Aronson said NSF is “an amazing place” where brilliant science from across the U.S. converges. As such, it’s her “greatest wish to create an IT environment that facilitates this continuous modernization and innovation, and at the same time simplifies customer interaction with NSF.”

Sonny Bhagowalia

CIO, U.S. Customs and Border Protection

As chief information officer at Customs and Border Protection, Sonny Bhagowalia has led the continued transformation of technology systems over the past year. In late 2021, the agency kickstarted its transition to the cloud by initiating the Enterprise Cloud and Integrated Services contract, and it has conducted innovative pilots including at the National Vetting Center, where it tested technology to automate the process of verifying whether someone is a U.S. citizen. CBP has been at the forefront of robotic process automation and is looking to roll out a total of 400 bots to streamline back office and front line operations by the end of the calendar year.

Mike Brown

Director, Defense Innovation Unit

After years as a CEO and White House Innovation Fellow, Mike Brown is the director of the Defense Innovation Unit, which was launched to accelerate the Defense Department’s adoption of commercial technology. “DIU is not an IT organization but our top IT priorities would include providing the tools for the organization to be productive and minimizing the time to use and work with these tools; this is much easier with commercial tools and networks than what many at DOD have to work with because of classification issues,” he told FedScoop. In his view, it’s important for leaders to be genuine, empathetic, and committed to ensuring their teams have the environment and resources needed to get their jobs done. “Given the size of government organizations, teamwork is required across many groups to create high-impact results. Building relationships and a shared vision is paramount,” he added.

Rob Carey

President, Cloudera Government Solutions

There are many qualities of a great leader, said Rob Carey, but one stands out as most important: being a good listener. “To be able to know that as a leader, that one does not know everything, and must in fact absorb ideas from others to be successful (and make them feel heard) is vital,” Carey said. “Similarly, recognizing when to speak and when to listen are powerful attributes for leading at any level.” As president of Cloudera Government Solutions, Carey said he isn’t focused on selling software but rather “partnering with an agency by providing operational solutions they can use every day.” And being a good listener and communicator is key to that, both in leading his team and serving customers. “As we communicate our role in managing the movement of data, hybrid data management and helping agencies with a wide array of use cases like cybersecurity, fraud detection, predictive analytics etc., our team understands the partnership role we play with our customers.”

Robin Carnahan

Administrator, General Services Administration

Robin Carnahan has taken leadership roles across the various levels of government — previously as Missouri’s secretary of state and now as the administrator of the General Services Administration. Carnahan told FedScoop that she’s learned in her career that empowering a team “with the tools and talent they need to deliver on that vision is fundamental to any organization’s success and doubly so in government.” Strong leaders, she said, must also “have humility about what they know and don’t know and constantly listen and learn from their teams but at the same time have the confidence to make bold bets on what’s most important. When it comes to those bold bets, it’s critical to over-communicate both inside and outside the organization in order to inspire the team, build momentum and partnerships, and make progress toward the goal.” At GSA in particular, Carnahan said she’s made it a priority to stay curious and to always look for success stories to convey the art of the possible. “We’re known for supporting buildings, acquisitions and technology, but we also help agencies transition to electric vehicles, we support humanitarian crises at home and around the world, and much more,” she said. “What I’ve learned is that there are endless opportunities to make government work better for the people we serve and save money doing it. Sharing those successes among the team and across government is an incredibly effective way to generate more innovative ideas and scale best practices in ways you might never expect and that have an enormous impact on the people we serve.”

Gerald Caron

CIO, Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General

Gerald Caron includes accessibility, transparency and effective communication — including taking responsibility for his actions — as part of his leadership style. Cybersecurity, specifically zero trust, in tandem with IT modernization is his top priority. “Use your resources to make informed decisions; be inclusive,” Caron said. “Set a strategy and revisit it to ensure you and your organization are aligning to it.”

Guy Cavallo

CIO, Office of Personnel Management

Extensive two-way communication, incorporating the right number of change agents with existing staff into new technology projects and rewarding top performers are among the most important qualities of a good leader, Cavallo told FedScoop. He said: “A good leader must be able to inspire his/her workforce to follow them on the journey … I also believe as a leader you must be willing to continually demonstrate your commitment, drive, and dedication to improving the organization’s performance.” According to Cavallo, setting a clear vision and strategy is crucial for any IT transformation journey, because an organization needs it to be able to understand the priorities that will be followed to successfully implement a vision.

Jennifer Chronis

Vice President of Public Sector, VMware

Jennifer Chronis’ journey to becoming a Best Boss in Federal IT wasn’t the most typical. She started her career in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, serving twice in combat theaters and earning recognition as jumpmaster after completing more than 40 jumps as a parachutist. Now as public sector vice president for VMware, Chronis is focused on helping federal customers in their multi-cloud journey and the drive for accelerated digital transformation. “Every single one of our customers in the public sector is dealing with so much change right now,” from the continued impacts of the pandemic on operations to the multiple mandates on cybersecurity at the federal level, Chronis said recently. “We know that all of our customers are moving to the cloud, and they’re moving to the cloud quickly. And a component of every customer’s digital transformation journey and cloud strategy is how to enable multi-cloud.”

Suzi Connor

CIO, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Suzi Connor is focused on digital transformation of governmental public health using emerging technologies to expedite analyses, model data in new ways and use insights to improve outcomes nationwide. She recognizes that requires transformation internally with a modern IT architecture, new capabilities, customer-centric services and performance measurement at CDC. Currently, Connor is helping with the search for CDC’s next CISO.

Lisa Costa

Chief Technology and Innovation Officer, U.S. Space Force

As the first ever CTIO for the Space Force, America’s newest military service branch, Lisa Costa is charged with “unlocking and harnessing innovation to leverage increased speed and advantage,” according to her DOD bio. That includes developing strategy and policy to advance science and technology as well as research, development, test, and evaluation. She is also tasked with employing cutting-edge technologies to “digitally transform” the service; ensuring IT needs are met; effectively managing Space Force data; and conducting analysis supporting all Space Force staff elements. Prior to her current role, she served as CIO for U.S. Special Operations Command. She has also held senior IT leadership positions in the private sector where her purview included big data, artificial intelligence and real-time predictive risk analytics.

Tony D’Angelo

Vice President of Public Sector, Lookout

To be a good leader, communication is key, said Tony D’Angelo, vice president of public sector at Lookout. However, he argues that listening is just as important. “A good listener will solicit input from a wide variety of people who have varying roles within the organization. This does a couple of things: It allows you to gain a unique perspective from each individual based on job function and their vantage point. It also shows the extended team that you are willing to take input before making judgments and important decisions,” D’Angelo said. In supporting the federal government’s many very important missions, D’Angelo takes his role with Lookout very seriously. “While we may not be on the front lines of defense, law enforcement, healthcare, or any other crucial government function, we see ourselves as every bit a critical component of the mission,” he said. “We work tirelessly to mitigate any data loss or compromising of networks and devices which could substantially impact our customers’ missions. While I feel my team is as emotionally invested in our role as I am, I often remind them why we’re here and what function we play in the overall mission of our federal government partners.”

Kurt DelBene

CIO, Department of Veterans Affairs

Kurt DelBene attributes being a good leader in IT to building a culture that’s focused on developing something users love. “I strive to build a culture where teams are passionate about creating tools and services that result in users — in our case, the Veteran, their caregiver, and their families — seeing a new tool, feature, or functionality that delights them,” said DelBene. “To achieve this, a good leader must articulate a clear and concise vision to ensure that we align resources to the highest priority tasks with concrete plans and clear measures of success.” Since joining the VA as CIO last December, DelBene has developed a vision for digital transformation dedicated to that user experience, as well focusing on the highest-priority work and “a back-to-basics foundation” in engineering excellence. Digital transformation in the public sector, DelBene said, is no different than it is in the commercial sector. “In both areas, it’s essential to engage with stakeholders, outline what they are trying to accomplish, and map out how IT can help them achieve that vision,” he said. “That’s digital transformation in the commercial sector, and that’s what we need to do in the federal space as well.”

David Dermanelian

Assistant Commandant for C4IT & CIO, U.S. Coast Guard

After a 34-year career in the Coast Guard, Rear Adm. David Dermanelian retired May 13. He said on the Daily Scoop Podcast recently that as CIO, he must provide the cyber operators the tools to be able to hunt down and isolate bad cyber actors on the network in a much faster cycle than they have done in the past. In terms of laying the groundwork for his successor, he said he’s prepared a set of senior leaders to lean on and help get answers to hard questions, whether they come externally or internally. He also explained that he has to take care of the workforce because they’re what make IT run, adding, no one can empower a person like the Coast Guard be it an E4 or an officer, which is what makes the Coast Guard so special.

Chris DeRusha

Federal CISO and Deputy National Cyber Director, Executive Office of the President

Chris DeRusha says that empathy and transparency have been crucial to the success of federal IT leaders during the last two years of the pandemic. “How we work and how we work together is evolving quickly, and these qualities yield better communication and understanding of what matters most to our workforce,” he told FedScoop. According to the cybersecurity leader, the President’s cybersecurity EO remains a top priority, and his team has “worked tirelessly” to engage federal agencies, the private sector and the public to develop a zero-trust strategy that enacts the vision of the order. He added: “Teams need diversity. By bringing a variety of backgrounds and lived experiences to the table, it makes for a successful team – one that builds off of each other’s perspectives, complements one another’s strengths, and drives the mission forward.”

Ann Dunkin

CIO, Department of Energy

Good leadership is situational by nature, says Department of Energy Chief Information Officer Ann Dunkin. “The number one priority of a good leader must be the success of their organization. If a leader puts the success of their organization first, that success will reflect on them,” she told FedScoop. “It means that good leaders make their first priority leading and developing people, understanding their employees as people and they give credit and take blame. The other universal quality of a good leader is putting people first.” The federal IT leader added that two of her top priorities have been to ensure operational excellence across every area of the agency and coordinating information sharing to ensure that DOE – and others – know what DOE knows.

Jen Easterly

Director, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency

Jen Easterly was recruited to lead the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at a time when the nation’s cybersecurity has risen to a top priority for the Biden administration. Through her leadership, she’s all about empowering people and building culture. “No asset is more important to this organization than our people. Continuing to attract and retain world-class talent is foundational to mission success and a culture of excellence,” she shared in a blog post about her leadership principles. “This means creating an environment of psychological safety, where people feel like they can be their authentic self; where they feel cared for, supported, empowered, and always treated with dignity and respect; where they feel a sense of ownership for mission; and where they welcome accountability and responsibility for their actions.” While Easterly has a deep list of what she believes makes a successful, vibrant workplace, she said a few things are non-negotiables: “Integrity, honesty, teamwork, and sound judgment are table stakes for our team.”

Lesley Field

Deputy Administrator, Office of Federal Procurement Policy

Good leadership means letting team members own their portfolios from start to finish, according to Lesley Field. “To make that happen, I limit my role to providing guardrail guidance and acting as a sounding board at various steps in the process. We encourage creativity, promote getting feedback from a multitude of sources, and provide top cover so the team feels supported,” she told FedScoop. At OFPP, recent top IT priorities have included establishing the IT Vendor Management Office, promoting the use of innovative business practices and working to shorten the acquisition cycle. Field also explained that as a federal IT leader, your number one concern has to be your staff: “People are everything. Care about and pay attention to the careers of your immediate team and your larger workforce – they are the people who will make your efforts successful,” she said.

Pat Flanders

CIO, Defense Health Agency

Being kind — and taking time to listen to the people who work for you — is an important leadership trait, said DHA’s Chief Information Officer Pat Flanders. “‘Because I said so’ is a terrible leadership style. It’s important to take the time to understand what the people supporting you are trying to convey and … what the logic is with regard to their recommendations. There is so much diversity in personality, leadership style, culture, and experience in the workforce that if you can just tap into all that by being kind and making time at the individual level — what a game-changer. One of the ways I do this is to give a lot of very short time periods to a lot of people” rather than having longer meetings with fewer people. His overarching strategy when it comes to IT is to teach people to become “cost warriors.” They need to “understand their financials, contracts, what we pay, and what we get for that money. That is a hard thing to do in the federal government as we are, for the most part, not incentivized to do that like the commercial world is,” he said.

Jennifer Franks

Director of Information Technology and Cybersecurity, Government Accountability Office

The three most important qualities of a good leader are being able to listen, being able to empower staff to do their jobs and delegating as necessary, according to Franks. “These three qualities are interwoven–listening effectively means I am equipped to empower my staff; by empowering my staff, I can tap into their strengths and delegate effectively; and by delegating effectively, I strengthen communication and deliverables, for which listening serves as a key component,” she told FedScoop. Her top IT priorities are finding small manageable improvements that can be made across agencies to improve their security, embracing the challenge of connecting personnel, software and hardware vulnerabilities to improve risk posture across government and helping federal agencies to develop a holistic approach to tackling the cyberthreats they face.

Scot Gagnon

Area Vice President, DOD/IC, World Wide Technology

Scot Gagnon serves as Area Vice President of DOD & IC Teams at WWT. With over 20 years of industry experience, and 10 years of service in the USAF, Scot brings expertise and passion for the United States federal government. As an industry expert in DOD digital modernization, in 2021 he oversaw WWT’s successful integration into the Global Enterprise Modernization Software and Services (GEMSS) program. The multi-year enterprise agreement supports the U.S. Army’s transition to modernize its network and communications system, which will improve and enable secure networking and communications, and remote work and collaboration capabilities.

Maj. Gen. Matt Glavy

Deputy Commandant for Information, U.S. Marine Corps

A well-trained and ready workforce can accomplish anything. “When I was the commanding general of 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, I would tell my squadron commanders I had three priorities; 1) Train your squadron 2) Train your squadron and 3) Train your squadron,” Lt. Gen. Matthew Glavy said. “If men and women are trained and ready to accomplish their given mission to the highest standard, the many other priorities fall in line and become much easier to accomplish. We need to be in a continuous state of learning, starting with me.” Glavy wants to focus on raising the bar among his workforce, challenging himself to make the below average, average and the average, above average.

James Hannah

Global CIO and SVP for Supply Chain, GDIT

“Listen, encourage, and be respectful to everyone.” Those are the top qualities of a good leader, said James Hannah, global CIO of General Dynamics IT. “Leaders must listen to their customers and employees to lead effectively and deliver value. We must encourage employees to pursue their personal and professional goals and actively assist, coach, and be present to help them succeed. Leaders must be respectful to people at all levels within the organization. Everyone plays an important role in delivering successful outcomes for the customer while providing value to the business,” he said. At GDIT, Hannah leads his team to work with governments across the globe, focusing on cloud, cyber and AI as top priorities. “We are committed to our cloud journey, expanding our cyber capabilities, knowledge, and offerings, while looking at artificial intelligence to enable us to make informed business decisions,” he said. “I inspire my team to support these initiatives by getting them involved in our customer zero story. I put the team directly in front of our customers to share our journey and how we solved the challenges that our customers are facing now. This provides our teams a sense of ownership and builds trust and buy-in.”

Mina Hsiang

Adinistrator, U.S. Digital Service

USDS Administrator Mina Hsiang says that the hallmark of a good leader is a strong and empowered team. “The best leaders build trust and collaboration between team members, ask questions that further their team’s thinking, help facilitate clarity and good strategy, and listen and respond to their team’s needs,” she told FedScoop. Among Hsiang’s top priorities are understanding the needs of diverse users across agencies and hiring the right people who can operate within the complex project delivery framework of federal government. “Government has a reputation for being siloed, but our work at USDS is inherently cross-functional. We’re often working across agencies and programs, with people of varied skillsets – policy experts, product managers, procurement experts, and more,” she added.

Eric Hysen

CIO, Department of Homeland Security

Eric Hysen has been busy since returning to DHS, this time as its CIO, in 2021. He’s helped stand up the Office of the CDO to better integrate data into the department’s operations, develop a supply chain risk management program and improve customer service. Hysen has prioritized making DHS an “active user” of the Technology Modernization Fund to support its projects. To start 2022, he released a self-assessment questionnaire to a subset of vendors to help evaluate DHS’s overall cyber hygiene risk.

Raj Iyer

CIO, U.S. Army

Listening to the workforce and empowering them to make changes are the qualities of a good leader, said Raj Iyer. Having released a plan to digitally transform and build a data-centric Army last year, Iyer values ideas of the workforce, which will enforce positive change and innovation. Iyer has learned to be less risk-averse and allow change to flow from the bottom up. “Teaching and empowering others to manage change for risk appetite,” he said as one of the biggest lessons he’s learned since joining the federal government. “Often in the federal government we see organizations where innovation is stifled because leadership is risk-averse and comfortable in a culture of compliance bureaucracy. This makes it exceedingly difficult to carry out experimentation and experience breakthroughs due to longstanding roadblocks to modernization.”

Akash Jain

Global CTO & President of U.S. Government, Palantir

As president of U.S. government business for Palantir, Akash “Aki” Jain leads by focusing on the experiences of those around him — from the end-users in the federal government to the personnel who work in lockstep with him every day. “Our top technology priorities revolve around the end user. It is about ensuring that the work we enable across the federal government improves the work product of the men and women across the civilian, defense, and intelligence communities on a daily basis. We do that by meeting our users where they are – often in the field – to better understand their workflows and challenges, and then leveraging our software platforms to help them go from 0 to 1 as quickly as possible.” Similarly, the status quo isn’t enough to recruit world-class talent to his team at Palantir, he said. “Good leaders ensure that every individual has the space, resources, and confidence to pursue their best ideas with a focus on driving real-world outcomes. More broadly, it is about ensuring that the work is mission- and purpose-driven, and that each member of the team feels a sense of pride and responsibility toward each other and the collective effort.”

Lauren Knausenberger

CIO, Department of the Air Force

Now nearly two years into serving as the CIO of the Department of the Air Force, Lauren Knausenberger has set a strategic vision for the military branch’s IT based on four pillars: developing a rock-solid digital foundation for JADC2; user experience for the warfighter; recruiting digital talent; and “ruthlessly” attacking manual and redundant processes and policies in what she calls the “Tradespace.” Having served in her role mostly during the COVID-19 pandemic, Knausenberger knows how important it is to be an empathetic leader. In 2021, she told FedScoop: “The things that never change are taking care of people, setting a clear vision, building coalitions — those things are always going to be in the recipe for success, especially during times of crisis. People are looking for strong leadership…they want that constant drumbeat that things are going to be OK, a safe place to vent their frustrations and to really be human.”

Rob Leahy

CIO, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Rob Leahy’s three IT priorities are people, cybersecurity and customer experience (CX). He cites his team members as the key to his office’s success. “The people who work in government represent all Americans; they come from different backgrounds and have different experiences and different perspectives,” Leahy said. “To obtain the best results for our team members and the country, including representing America’s values, it’s essential to enable, honor and build on these differences.” Cybersecurity is important to creating a safe and secure work environment where people and assets are protected, while CX is top of mind because customers are the reason the IT is in place, he added.

Katy Mann

Vice President of Federal, Okta

Katy Mann joined Okta as vice president of federal in the summer of 2021, and since then, she’s helped lead the company’s work with the federal government in its mission to “securely connect the right people to the right technologies at the right time.” Mann joined Okta with nearly 25 years of experience providing modern technology solutions to the government, spending nearly eight years with Splunk. Now, with Okta, Mann is serving the federal government in its journey to zero-trust security, namely through providing modern identity solutions in the cloud as part of the year-old cybersecurity executive order

Josh Marcuse

Head of Federal Strategy, Google Cloud

Josh Marcuse believes you shouldn’t ask a leader what the good qualities of leadership are. Instead, you should ask the people on the teams they lead. “Gallup did superb research on this and found that what followers want most is trust, compassion, stability, and hope,” Marcuse said. “Sometimes we forget that what makes a leader isn’t authority; it’s followers. Being informed, decisive, or charismatic doesn’t hurt, but the most important qualities are empathy, humility, introspection.” And asked what his top IT priorities as head of federal strategy of Google Cloud are, he responded: “The most important thing is to not have IT priorities. We need mission priorities. Show me how tech is connected to the national strategy? Or organizational performance? I harbor lofty dreams of inspiring people to champion change, but I couldn’t care less about IT. We need to give public servants the best tools for impact, deliver services to families, secure our nation, and strengthen our democracy. Numbers really don’t do that for me. Dashboards surely don’t. I believe in telling true stories about real people making an impact, which happens to be the only thing people really care about.”

Clare Martorana

Federal CIO, Executive Office of the President

Federal CIO Clare Martorana finds that developing a deep understanding of colleagues – and what motivates them – lies at the heart of great IT leadership: “By getting to know your team and learning what they’re passionate about, a good leader will find ways to get them involved in the work they care about,” she told FedScoop. Empowering them and giving staff agency over the projects they work on is also essential, according to the federal technology leader. Ensuring citizens have a seamless experience when they interact with government digital is among her top priorities, as the Office of the Federal CIO team works to implement the President’s cybersecurity and customer experience executive orders. “With each policy we launch, we’re exploring new ways to reduce burden for the federal workforce so they can deliver for the American people,” she added.

Pritha Mehra

CIO, U.S. Postal Service

According to Postal Service CIO Pritha Mehra, a good leader needs to be an active listener and a perpetual student. They must also be results-driven. “Good leaders start each day scanning a summary of the news that affects their organization and never stop learning,” she told FedScoop. “They should have trusted advisors helping filter internal and external news for trends and developments that create opportunities … I have to keep in touch with the rhythms of the marketplace so my team and I can anticipate trends and keep meeting evolving customer expectations,” she added. Mehra is focused on supporting the Postal Service’s Delivering for America plan, as part of which her office has articulated key strategies and specific initiatives such as using collaboration tools to increase productivity and promoting data resiliency.

Andre Mendes

CIO, Department of Commerce

Andre Mendes strives to drive consensus within his organization. His focus is creating or adopting abstraction layers that remove commodity burdens from the department’s IT portfolio. “Like everywhere else, feds want to do great work, but many have been rocked into complacency by lack of accountability, a dearth of inspiring leadership and performance management that does little to accentuate the difference between superlative performance, passable efficiency or even mediocre throughput,” Mendes said. “Everybody aspires to greatness; many are lulled to sleep by a permissive environment. Give people reason to rise to excellence, and most will.”

Jason Miller

Deputy Director of Management, Office of Management and Budget

Jason Miller says effective leaders know it is all about the team. “A good leader builds and supports a strong team, establishes a clear vision, communicates it regularly – both internally and externally, and empowers the team to take action and adjust as needed,” he told FedScoop. At the Office of Management and Budget, Miller has three top priorities: deliver on the President’s commitment to dramatically improve federal service delivery and customer experience, execute on the president’s commitment to strengthening cybersecurity and bring even more technical talent into the federal workforce at all levels. According to Miller, working in the federal government will show a leader just how important it is to listen: “Organizational leadership is temporary in the federal agencies, and in my role, I recognize that I am temporary. Our teams – our workforce – provide continuity, institutional memory, and deep expertise. To make change durable, you need to start by listening,” he told FedScoop.

Beth Niblock

CIO, Department of Housing and Urban Development

To Beth Niblock, there are five important qualities that make up a good leader: integrity, commitment to the mission, communication, intellectual curiosity and empathy. “I believe that building trust through consistent communication and maintaining that trust through transparency in real-time fosters an environment that makes an organization feel valued and critical to its mission and work,” she told FedScoop. At HUD, her top IT priorities are technology modernization, cybersecurity and continuing to provide excellent levels of customer service to partners and customers. Commenting on leadership lessons learned while in federal government, she said: “As a leader, if we keep the ‘why’ we do the work we do, keeping focused on ‘who’ we do the work for, then we can tap into the passion and momentum of ‘how’ to do the work.”

Andrea Norris

CIO, NIH

NIH’s Center for IT, which Andrea Norris directs, has undertaken several modernization and expansion initiatives in the last few years. Projects include network modernization, building out NIH’s supercomputing environment — one of the world’s best — and moving to unified communications. Norris also oversees NIH’s cybersecurity program and Science and Technology Research Infrastructure for Discovery, Experimentation, and Sustainability (STRIDES) Initiative to accelerate biomedical advances by improving access to large datasets.

Dovarius Peoples

CIO, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Dovarius Peoples has been responsible for all aspects of the Army Corps of Engineers’ information resource management and information technology operations since April 2019. “A great leader is one who understands how to find a balance between life and work. Caring for others is your most important responsibility,” he told FedScoop. In his view, the Army’s digital transformation journey consists of making the zero trust methodology and framework essential to securing its IT and Operational Technology environments. “Modernizing major business systems that enable us to deliver projects on time and within budget via cloud agnostic platforms will allow us to get massive amounts of data in the hands of our end users,” he noted. The CIO added that he deliberately works to inspire his team’s success through accountability. “I encourage the team to always ask for help when needed and as a leader I provide honest and constructive feedback,” he said.

Neelam Sandhu

SVP for Sustainability and Chief Elite Customer Success Officer, BlackBerry

Neelam Sandhu believes effective leaders all share similar core characteristics: “The ability to lead with their head and heart; being a role model; being fair to everyone; self-awareness; and listening and communication,” she told FedScoop. On self-awareness, she said, “Good leaders know their strengths, have the humility to say what they don’t know, and aren’t afraid to hire for their weaknesses.” As SVP for sustainability and chief elite customer success officer with BlackBerry, Sandhu uses these characteristics every day to inspire her team to serve the federal government, making her customers’ priorities her team’s priorities. And in serving the federal market, she has learned that perseverance is key. “The federal government has a critical mission and a complex structure, which requires a long-term commitment whether you are working in or with the agencies,” Sandhu said. “If you are inspired by the mission, perseverance is a powerful force to deliver results.”

Katie Savage

Deputy CDAO for Digital Services, Department of Defense

As the head of the Pentagon’s Defense Digital Services, now a directorate under the department’s new Chief Digital and AI Office, Katie Savage, n?e Olson, has learned that leadership cannot be done alone. “Leadership cannot rest on a single individual. Developing a vision, making and communicating decisions, and building a healthy culture are ideally a virtuous circle within a team: you make decisions in collaboration with your team; the collaboration makes it easy for everyone to understand and execute; the sense of ownership and empowerment consequently developed in your culture feed collaboration in the next set of decisions,” she told FedScoop. As an integral part in standing up the new CDAO office, Savage’s biggest priority ahead is “championing talent, tools and infrastructure.” She explained that her team is her biggest asset. “We cannot accomplish our CDAO mission of using data to create decision advantage without a deep bench of individuals and teams who know how to collect, manage, and use data.”

John Sherman

CIO, Department of Defense

Humility, kindness, adaptability and willingness to capitalize on teams’ initiative are key traits that make good leaders, according to the Defense Department’s Chief Information Officer John Sherman. “I see the most important qualities of a good leader being centered around providing a common vision/North Star, instilling the team with enthusiasm and focus towards key goals, always embracing respect and diversity of views, not taking oneself too seriously, and never asking your team to do something you wouldn’t do yourself,” he told FedScoop. Sworn into this role in December, Sherman is steering notable digital transformation initiatives across the massive enterprise. “My top priorities are increasing the department’s cybersecurity posture by implementing Zero Trust at scale and getting rid of technical debt on weapon systems and other critical assets; providing enterprise cloud computing capabilities; enhancing command, control, and communication capabilities to enable our warfighters to dominate in highly-contested environments; enhancing our digital talent opportunities/development; and improving the user experience across” the DOD, he said. Sherman brings decades of tech and leadership experience to the role, and he most recently served as the intelligence community’s CIO. The biggest lesson he’s learned about leading in a federal government context is the need to build strong coalitions. “Teaming is critical to overcoming the hardest enterprise challenges and navigating what can sometimes be daunting obstacles,” Sherman said.

David Shive

CIO, General Services Administration

David Shive is no stranger to being a Best Boss in Federal IT. A repeat honoree on the annual list of top leaders in the federal IT community, Shive, the CIO of the General Services Administration, is focused on “delivering value and savings in real estate, acquisition, technology, and other mission-support services across government through secure and resilient technology solutions.” A big part of that comes in the push to modernize GSA’s cybersecurity through zero trust. “We are evolving from our traditional perimeter-based, compliance-oriented model to a Zero Trust Architecture that considers resources and access as fundamentally untrusted,” Shive told FedScoop in an email earlier this year. “By implementing [cybersecurity] modernization efforts, GSA will improve user experience through seamless global connection to GSA-managed environments and applications while maintaining ZTA principles. It will improve cybersecurity capabilities to continually verify the security of users, devices, applications, and data as well as achieve broad-based visibility across the GSA ecosystem with enhanced capabilities leveraging automation to manage and respond to threats in real-time.”

Heidi Shyu

Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Department of Defense

As the Pentagon’s chief technology officer, Heidi Shyu’s job is twofold: develop new capabilities for U.S. warfighters and focus the investments necessary for future success. “You need to set a vision for the team and common goals so the entire team can all go in the same direction,” she told FedScoop. “It is also critical for leaders to have an ability and willingness to listen. Many senior leaders are talented at presenting ideas, but the most successful leaders are those who are just as skilled at receiving information. The reality is that the people who know the most are almost always the people who work for you, especially in these highly technical areas.” Shyu has released a list of 14 technologies critical to the nation’s armed forces, including Integrated Network Systems-of-Systems. “It’s bigger than just IT,” she said. “We must develop a diverse set of communication pathways to enable secure and resilient communication in a highly contested environment. We must be able to command and control at the tactical edge with limited communication. We need to seamlessly connect disparate systems that were never designed to talk to each other. We can then enable the vision of any sensor to any shooter.”

Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner

Director, Defense Information Systems Agency

Actions speak louder than words, and it’s important leaders demonstrate to their workforce they care, Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner said. “Leaders need to show people that they care with their actions, not just their words,” he said. “Leaders show they care by providing their people with tools, guidance and support, creating a culture of trust, inclusion, diversity and transparency needed to accomplish the mission at hand. Leaders show they care by empowering their subordinates, enabling them to swiftly take the actions needed for mission success. At the end of the day, a leader has to set the vision, be committed to it, eliminate the roadblocks and set the environment to shine, while also being agile enough to change as the situation(s) dictate.” Good leaders also need to empower subordinates in order to cultivate an atmosphere of trust, providing guidance, support and training to enable success.

Rajiv Uppal

CIO, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Rajiv Uppal handles enterprise IT, security and privacy, and investment planning for CMS. He’s helped spearhead the effort to improve patient and private sector access to health care data — tying payments to outcomes. Uppal emphasizes constant outreach to CMS business partners, encouraging them to adopt modern IT practices like human-centered design.

Mark Valentine

Head of Federal, Scale AI

Atop Mark Valentine’s list of qualities that make a good leader is a triad of key traits: integrity, authenticity, and a growth mindset. “It’s difficult to be an effective leader when you’re busy trying to be the smartest person in the room; a little humility goes a long way,” said Valentine, the head of federal for Scale AI. In serving the federal government in its journey to operationalize AI, Valentine has learned that success is not a zero-sum game, as many believe it to be. “Therefore, we should all focus on outcomes, bring people along and let them know they belong. When teammates are invested in the vision and the team, and feel like they belong, they will flourish,” he said.

Aaron Weis

CIO, Department of the Navy

A veteran of the private sector, Aaron Weis joined government as a senior adviser to the Department of Defense CIO and then took over the Navy’s sprawling IT enterprise in 2019 as CIO. Since then, he has sought a variety of initiatives aimed at modernizing the Navy’s IT practices and moving it forward on par with commercial best practices.

James Yeager

VP of Public Sector & Health Care, Crowdstrike

Transparency is key to being a great leader, James Yeager, vice president of public sector and healthcare for Crowdstrike, told FedScoop. “I think some of the most critical qualities a leader can have is to always remain mission-focused, stay committed and passionate to whatever your ultimate end goal is, and partner with people that share your vigor for the mission and who inspire you daily,” he said. “One of the key ways to ensure you are aligned with your team and your internal partners is to operate with transparency. Open communication should never be marginalized or sacrificed.” As he dedicates his work to helping public sector agencies modernize their cybersecurity, he has learned “you can never stop learning, evolving and growing,” Yeager said. “Stagnation ultimately leads to failure. This is especially true in cybersecurity as the landscape around us is constantly shifting and the adversary is continually modifying their strategies and tactics. We must always stay one step ahead of them in order to protect our customers.”

Dave Zvenyach

Director, Technology Transformation Services, General Services Administration

Dave Zvenyach returned to the General Services Administration in 2021 at the start of the Biden administration amid a governmentwide focus on digital transformation and enhanced service delivery. Since the administration’s publication of an executive order focused on customer experience, Zvenyach has spearheaded GSA role as a leader in promoting shared digital services on behalf of the greater federal government. “Ultimately, one of the things that we have recognized over the years, and we see this expressed in the executive order, is that it is all too easy for agencies to think about themselves and just sort of say, ‘Well, what does it mean for me?'” Zvenyach told FedScoop. “As opposed to putting the user or the customer in the center of the work. And the executive order really pushes agencies to think about what the user need actually is and to put that squarely into the center.” With the EO, he said he “wants to make sure that when people interact with the government, it’s an opportunity to build trust and to build better experiences with the government.”

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