The Karen Evans era

Karen Evans has become such a fixture—as well as a driving force—in the federal government IT community that it was hard to reconcile the scene in an upstairs dining room at Clyde’s restaurant in Washington last Friday as 100 or so colleagues bid her farewell with a series of tributes and gifts (all, of course, under $25.)

Jan. 16 was Evans’ last day as the Office of Management and Budget’s administrator for e-government and information technology—bringing a long career in public service to a close and, in many regards, an important era in government information technology.

As the federal government’s de facto chief information officer, Evans earned both the scorn and respect of many federal IT chiefs for the work and performance demands that she and OMB placed on agency IT staffs.

But few who cared about improving the workings of government could deny the need for and importance of developing an enterprisewide architecture for government IT, or standardizing the systems for physical and virtual identity management, or reducing the government’s exposure to Internet security threats, or bringing about the disciplines to justify or abandon duplicative IT systems.

And while much remains to be done, it is also hard to deny the progress the federal government has made on all of these IT fronts, as well as a wide range of other electronic government initiatives, under Evan’s watch since taking over the OMB post in 2003.

Indeed, while the likes of Health and Human Services Department CIO Michael Carleton, Defense Department Deputy CIO Dave Wennergren and former Transportation Department CIO Dan Matthews took their customary tribute shots today at how tough Evans could be, they and others were also full of praise for Evan’s passion for results, her technical know-how and her concern for helping so many in the federal community.

Anyone who has visited Evans at her now-vacant office in the Old Executive Office building knows of her enduring connection to the federal workers and firefighters in New York City whom she helped in a federal IT capacity in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Her commitment as a public servant–which probably began as the daughter of public servant–continues to draw admiration in and outside of government.

Her experience in leading IT initiatives with the Justice and Energy Departments, among other assignments, gave her a rich command for technical matters that also made her a force to be reckoned with when it came to managing the federal government’s IT investments.

There is a perverse irony over just how much Evans’ miniscule staff managed to accomplish during her tenure, as one OMB insider observed.

That Evans’ got so much done with so few resources may draw the Obama Administration to the wrong conclusion the office charged with administering the federal government’s $70 billion-a-year IT budget is sufficiently supported.

But given the importance of IT to the government’s work, and the need to develop more efficient and more secure enterprise-wide IT systems, the better conclusion would be this: To recognize just how strong a foundation Evans and her team succeeded in building and give her successors the necessary resources to build the kind cross-governmental IT systems the federal government truly needs.

For our part, we’ll miss Karen’s animated IT musings and her knowledge of all that was taking place across the federal government. And we wish her well as she begins to contemplate what life will be like not having to commute from West Virginia each weekday morning.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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Reader Comments

Thu, Feb 12, 2009 DC area

I agree with the comment. The article is a puff piece at best and doesn't reflect the true nature of the relationships and impacts of her era. She consistently worked up with the political bosses and less so with her peers and subordinates. She did not inspire or seem to respect the Feds or contractors who worked for her at Energy, did not use the CIO Council at Energy to smooth the implementation of new policies, left costly contracts that did not support the mission, forced overreliance on Earned Value Analysis without recognizing the downside or problems with that tool, and the lines of business based on a corporate paradigm for the Federal Government wasted much time and energy by all. The vaunted claim of technical savvy is hollow such as for market changes on IP6. Those changes were happening with or without her. We are ready for a new leader with a different style of leadership and someone who reflects an understanding of large scale cultural change and the newer Internet based technologies.

Wed, Jan 21, 2009 John Columbia Md

No offense, but Evan's success were the result of teh fact that the CIO Council rubberstamped her initiatives and forced a lot of work out onto the agencies. The WORK was done by the agencies, while OMB worked at 100,000 feet, issued generic one size fits all directives and beat up agency politicos with fear of being red. That small staff of hers was often inaccessible and unable or unwilling to respond to requests for clarification on things that were badly or ambiguously written. Much like Mark Foreman before her, it was easy for her to issue broad directives but the area where both failed miserably was in helping agencies actually accomplish things; to work at how to be successful the detail level. Poke behind a lot of OMB scores and you'll find a lot of boxes being checked off rather than processes being reinvented. She did what was asked for, but she certainly wasn't the leader the article makes her out to be. My opinion, of course.

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