Steven VanRoekel’s first public appearance last week since taking over the role as federal CIO in August from Vivek Kundra was perhaps as notable for where he spoke as for what he had to say.

Unlike Kundra, who made his first public remarks inside the Washington Beltway as federal CIO, at the 2009 FOSE Expo (transcript available here), VanRoekel headed to the West Coast, speaking at an event co-hosted by TechAmerica, TechNet and PARC Oct. 25 at the Churchill Club in Palo Alto, Calif.

“It’s not a coincidence that my first speech is being made in PARC,” Steven VanRoekel reportedly told an audience of Silicon Valley executives.

VanRoekel’s decision to pronounce his priorities at the famed research park clearly appeared to be more than an opportunity to test his message at the political equivalent of off-Broadway.

The symbolism of his trip to Palo Alto signaled VanRoekel’s understanding, as a former Microsoft executive and strategist, how important it is to assess which way technology investors are leaning and to send the message not to ignore the needs of government.

VanRoekel message revolved around his “Future First” vision–one that riffed on Kundra’s “Cloud First” mantra, with “a set of principles like ‘XML First,’ ‘Web Services First,’ ‘Virtualize First,’ and other ‘Firsts’ that will inform how we develop our government’s systems.”

We thought GovLoop’s Andrew Krzmarzick summary of VanRoekel’s speech (see the video here) was as succinct as any on what the Federal CIO’s priorities are:

1. Do More with Less – Maximize ROI on IT Investments

  • root out waste and duplication across the federal IT portfolio
  • shift to commodity IT, leverage technology, procurement, and best practices
  • build on existing investments rather than re-inventing the wheel.

2. Close the Productivity Gap

  • build a “future ready” workforce equipped with the modern tools and technologies
  • implement smart telework policies that give our employees increased flexibility
  • reduce real estate footprint and better enable government to function during an emergency
  • think strategically about how we buy, manage and use mobile devices and collaboration tools cost-effectively and securely.

3. Improve Citizen and Business Interaction with Government

  • lower the barriers to interaction with the government.T
  • launch a one-stop, online portal for small businesses to find and access available programs, information, and other services from across the government
  • launch a dashboard where the public can track an initial set of large infrastructure projects through the review and permitting process.

4. Enhance Cyber Security

  • consolidate data centers, shut down legacy systems, and move to the cloud
  • ensure Americans and our government are safe

5. Change the Way We Invest

  • embrace modular development
  • build on open standards
  • run our projects in lean startup mode.
  • work with Congress to change our approach to funding technology

You can follow Krzmarzick’s discussion thread on whether these are the right principles and how they should evolve over time at this GovLoop link.

VanRoekel’s trip to Palo Alto left the always-capable Lisa Schlosser, his deputy administrator in the Office of E-Government and Information Technology in the Office of Management and Budget, to stand in for VanRoekel at last week’s Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va.

That included introducing a short video-taped keynote message from her boss to a somewhat disappointed audience of senior government IT and contractor officials who had hoped to hear from the new federal CIO in person.

So far at least, VanRoekel’s has proven to a be bit more pragmatic in reaching out and listening to federal CIOs and industry than his predecessor, based on what CIOs and executives are telling me.

There are others, of course, who believe VanRoekel’s ability to make a meaningful impact is limited and that at best, he is relegated to following OMB’s playbook as the Obama administration focuses on its waning months heading into the 2012 election.

That said, VanRoekel’s priorities remain hugely relevant to agencies and the federal government’s information technology plans at large.

Perhaps the biggest challenge VanRoekel and federal agencies now face is the budget hatchet in large part because many federal IT projects show up as identifiable line items on agency budgets, unlike proposed savings from reducing waste, fraud and abuse.

So if the federal government is going to see some of the IT innovation VanRoekel is counting on to improve federal government efficiency, it’s likely we can expect to see his next speaking engagements closer to Capitol Hill.