Nobody likes having to do more with less—except perhaps VanRoekel. Before the start of the Obama administration, the federal government's expenditures on information technology were growing at about 7 percent a year. Since then, budgets have been flat. But VanRoekel, 43, doesn't see the cap on IT spending as a burden; instead, it's a point of pride. "There was a culture in government that was really about, 'To do new things, you must spend more in IT,' and we've proven that's not true," he said. "You can actually innovate on a flat or declining budget." VanRoekel has overseen a handful of initiatives to modernize federal IT. Between moving systems to the cloud and consolidating government data centers, he said, the Obama administration has been able to achieve "lower costs and higher value." VanRoekel landed his first job out of college (Iowa State University) at Microsoft. He attracted the then-fledgling company's attention thanks to his tinkering on the just-released Windows 3.1, which he adapted to run on a rival company's networking hardware. By 1999, VanRoekel had become Bill Gates's personal assistant. Watching the Microsoft CEO grow the business, VanRoekel became fascinated by the notion of delivering worldwide impact on a broad scale, particularly after Gates expanded his global philanthropy. As big as Microsoft was back then, VanRoekel found that the U.S. government's IT footprint was even bigger. Federal procurement power alone had the effect of shaping technology markets. "If impact equals mass times acceleration," he said, paraphrasing one of the fundamental formulas of physics, "we have the mass. If you can get a little bit of acceleration and nudge this thing forward, you're going to get some impact."
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