USAID seeks to bring high-tech fight to Ebola

The White House’s chief information officer is being dispatched to improve the government's use of technology and data to respond to the Ebola crisis, an administration official said Friday.

Steve VanRoekel, a former Microsoft executive who previously worked at the U.S. Agency for International Development as the executive director of citizen and organizational engagement, will help the U.S. team responding to the crisis develop and analyze real-time data officials hope can help them contain the spread of the deadly virus.

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"We are thrilled to welcome Steve back to USAID at a critical time," Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah said in a statement. "With his unique talents and expertise, Steve will help us harness technologies like open data and mobile platforms to reach communities and households with powerful and life-saving information to help stop the devastating Ebola outbreak."

Earlier this week, President Obama announced the U.S. was sending 3,000 military personnel to West Africa to respond to the crisis. The Pentagon plans to establish a command center in Liberia, build more than a dozen temporary hospitals, and distribute kits with sanitizing equipment and medicine.

According to a senior administration official, the U.S. is prepared to devote more than $1 billion to the effort if necessary.

VanRoekel previously worked on public health issues during time in the early days of the Gates Foundation, and led USAID communications efforts during the 2011 drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.

“I am excited to join USAID’s leadership to help stop the Ebola outbreak,” VanRoekel said in a statement. “Technology is not the solution to this extremely difficult task but it will be a part of the solution and I look forward to partnering with our Federal agencies, non-profit organizations and private sector tech communities to help accelerate this effort.”

The administration official said President Obama and his team would work “swiftly” to fill VanRoekel’s position as White House CIO with “another top talent,” but that in the interim, Deputy Administrator Lisa Schlosser will oversee the Office of E-Government & Information Technology. VanRoekel's move to USAID was first reported by Politico.