Senate panel approves VA CIO nominee

The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee today approved the nomination of Robert Howard as the Veterans Affairs Department CIO and assistant secretary for information and technology. The full Senate is expected to vote to confirm him by Friday before Congress adjourns.

Howard has performed many CIO duties since VA secretary Jim Nicholson named him supervisor of the Office of Information and Technology after former CIO Robert McFarland left at the end of April. He had been senior adviser to VA deputy secretary Gordon Mansfield since May 2005.

In a hearing yesterday to consider his nomination, Howard told lawmakers that VA has begun implementing an IT security plan, the Data Security-Assessment and Strengthening Controls Program.

'This is VA's high-priority program designed to remedy the many security deficiencies that have been uncovered,' Howard said.

For example, VA leadership has met with officials in the benefits, health and burial administrations on the status of IT security in their organizations. The department has installed encryption software on 15,000 notebook PCs and upgraded its process for reporting data breaches.

Howard has been the face of VA's IT organization in congressional hearings and handling data security issues after the theft of a notebook PC containing the personal information of millions of veterans from the home of an employee in May.

McFarland resigned in the wake of what he called 'a contentious atmosphere at the executive level' over pressure to centralize the VA IT organization. He said he left because 'my continued presence in it would be detrimental to the department's implementation of it [centralization].'

VA has begun to centralize management and operational IT and the associated IT personnel under Howard, but IT project development and software developers remain under the authority of VA's health, benefits and burial administrations.

Prior to joining VA, Howard served in several senior leadership positions in the private sector and as deputy assistant secretary of the Army. A Vietnam War veteran, Howard served 33 years on active duty and achieved the rank of major general of the Army.

Howard received his bachelor's degree from Northeastern University in Boston and his master's degree from Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. He has another master's degree from the Army Command and General Staff College and is a graduate of the National War College.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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