Powner leaving GAO
- By Adam Mazmanian
IT oversight expert Dave Powner, a 16-year veteran at the Government Accountability Office, is moving on, a GAO spokesperson confirmed.
As director of IT management issues at GAO, Powner has frequently participated on congressional witness panels during IT oversight hearings. He has also worked behind the scenes with members of Congress and staffers on issues related to a range of troubled technology systems, including aging IRS mainframes, gaps in weather satellite coverage at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the technology-driven approach to the 2020 census and the Department of Veterans Affairs's adoption of a commercial electronic health record.
Many people in the federal IT community view Powner as more than an auditor or compliance officer. "He knows where every skeleton is buried in government IT," said Rich Beutel, a consultant and lobbyist who worked with Powner as a senior staffer on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
"Dave Powner was instrumental in driving the next wave of IT modernization," Beutel added. "His focus and oversight were essential to establishing a vision of 21st-century government for the American people."
Former federal CIO Tony Scott valued Powner's wide-ranging knowledge of IT in the federal enterprise. "I found Dave to be the consistent voice for advocating for good IT practices across multiple administrations," Scott told FCW. "His voice and his deep knowledge of how things really work will be sorely missed."
Powner was also the lead on holding agencies feet to the fire on the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act. He produced a series of report cards for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that ranked agencies based on their implementation of FITARA's enhanced CIO authorities, data center consolidation requirements, software licensing inventories and more.
FITARA co-sponsor Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) is grateful for the effort.
"Dave Powner has been a force of nature for government accountability in the IT space. We partnered together on six FITARA Scorecards, and he has been integral to ensuring the faithful implementation and enforcement of FITARA," Connolly told FCW in an email. "We are losing someone Congress trusted and relied upon for unvarnished analysis on where the federal government was getting it right and where it was falling short."
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), the chairman of the IT Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee called Powner "irreplaceable."
"He's a name that, in the history of our government, people might not remember it but they should because of all the work he’s done to make sure that we’re efficient, that we’re protecting people’s information and that we’re offering citizen facing services for people," Hurd said after a July 25 cybersecurity hearing.
Rob Thomas II, who served as acting CIO of VA and testified before Congress alongside Powner, called him a "visionary," adding that "his sage advice managing and executing IT programs successfully was invaluable to me as a CIO."
Powner won FCW's 2017 Eagle Award given to the fed deemed to have had the most impact on federal IT that year. In a profile, Powner told FCW that in an auditor-agency relationship, a little conflict is healthy.
"You want agreement at a high level, but if you don’t have a few disagreements, maybe you’re not pushing hard enough," Powner said. "A few little disagreements are healthy from an audit perspective."
Powner's next job will be at MITRE, the nonprofit that operates federally funded research and development centers with a strong focus on cybersecurity, healthcare and defense. Powner told FCW his new job starts sometime in August.
News of Powner's departure was first reported by MeriTalk.
This article was updated July 25 to include additional comment.
FCW senior staff writer Derek B. Johnson contributed reporting to this article.