This is the first in a series of posts in the aftermath of my term as Acting CIO and Deputy CIO at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The second post is a set of lessons I learned being a CIO.
Three years ago today, I joined the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In two weeks, I’ll be departing as the Deputy CIO. I have never been as committed to any job as I have been to the Bureau, and the bonds I’ve made with my coworkers will last forever. I’ll miss everything about life at 1700 G St.
But I won’t miss commuting between DC and NYC every week, or subjecting my wife to the same. (By the way, she did the commute longer than I did and turned out some pretty great work in the process.) It’s great to be back in Brooklyn.
Most of my time at the CFPB was spent as a manager, overseeing the creation of the Bureau’s baseline technology needs: laptops, servers, tech support, and so on, along with the day-to-day management of a 100-member team. It’s a set of skills I wouldn’t have gained at any other job: how often will a 1,500-person federal agency be started from scratch? And we have churned out an amazing set of web products, with even better things on the horizon. I can’t wait for you to see them.
At the same time, technology management is more about management than technology. I’ve spent the last few years navigating bureaucracy instead of making things, with my eyes focused on an organization instead of on the broader techno-civic landscape. I’m excited to shift my energy to some of the things that have happened in the last three years:
- Open Government has peaked on the hype curve, and the community is now looking for ways to make it a means to an end as opposed to an end in itself.
- Open source is two things: A licensing model, and a community. Federal attitudes toward the former have come a long way. Agencies now have to sign on to the latter.
- Having been affected by a failed roll-out of a federal web product, DC is finally listening to ideas for improving the way agencies build software. It’s great to see coders getting love from leaders. But there’s a risk designers are left out of this conversation. Their role in government technology is underappreciated and, in my opinion, more vital than coders’.
- Meanwhile, the biggest IT gap in the civic service is one that private citizens will never see: enterprise productivity. The civil servant’s desktop toolkit is loathsome. Enterprise software ventures are supposedly gathering steam among the investment community. But the government is a unique customer, and I hope blossoming enterprise start-ups take that into account.
- My old profession–intelligence analysis–has some big challenges. In addition to the pre-existing and persisting challenge of information sharing and overload, the IC now has a perverse, Schrodinger’s Cat-like assignment: perform its job with zero failure while knowingly stopping short of doing everything in its power, and inviting the public to participate in an institution whose culture of silence goes back thousands of years.
- This challenge epitomizes a larger problem that democracies must solve: listening to a diverse electorate’s opinions on issues far too complex for the average citizen to understand, and using that input to shape singular policies that satisfy everyone in an increasingly tailor-made world.