September 10, 2009 By Tod Newcombe, Editor
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- If President Barack Obama's administration hopes to open up and transform the federal government with IT as the driver, it will be the CIOs who will have to turn policy into action.
Two of the fed's leading CIOs, Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) Vivek Kundra and the General Services Administration's (GSA) Casey Coleman, provided some insight on how they plan to get things done in separate conversations today during the Gov 2.0 Summit in Washington, D.C.
Addressing the initiative to open up data to the public, Kundra pointed out that government has a dual responsibility to make data as accessible to the public as possible and yet present it in a way that explains the government's role in serving the public. "An example is the IT Dashboard [which provides information on federal IT spending]," he said. "We made the data available in a machine-readable format, but also presented it to the public so they could see how we are spending [tax dollars] on IT in different ways."
When challenged by his host, Ellen Miller, founder of the Sunlight Foundation, on the slow delivery of data at the USASpending.gov Web site, Kundra explained that as much as the agencies want to make the data available in real time as possible, "you have to understand the [IT] infrastructure the agencies run on are aging systems ... that can't handle the demand for information" in a real-time manner.
Another obstacle is the culture of not releasing data until it is clean and accurate. This happened with the IT Dashboard, according to Kundra, who said many intermediaries argued against posting data that hadn't been fully vetted for accuracy. "But by posting it publicly early, we quickly learned from the public what the problems were and cleaned them up." As a result, a project that wouldn't have been deployed for many months, if not longer, was up and available in weeks.
In a separate session, the GSA's CIO Casey Coleman said the impetus to build a cloud computing environment was driven largely by the need to make federal government operations faster, cost less and more sustainable. "The value proposition around cloud computing does all that. That's why the GSA wants to make industry solutions for cloud computing available to the government."
In August, the GSA released a request for quotations (RFQ) from vendors interested in providing cloud computing services to federal agencies. The RFQ is considered by many to be a significant move toward establishing an online storefront for cloud offerings. These offerings would be available to state and local governments on the GSA platform as well.
Coleman sees government having access to a variety of cloud solutions. She said that approximately 45 percent of government applications were suitable candidates for commercial cloud offerings, either at the infrastructure level, involving on-demand storage and computing needs, as well as the higher, application level, the so-called software-as-a-service solutions offered by a number of vendors, including Google and Salesforce.com, for example.
The challenge that the government faces is predominantly cultural, according to Coleman. "There are constraints on moving [the federal government] to the cloud. The federal government isn't one culture; it's many cultures, with different budgets and stakeholders." But the value proposition of the cloud makes it possible to overcome these sorts of hurdles, said Coleman. "You can start small and scale rapidly, and build a culture that learns how to share and collaborate."
She added that there is no culture of rapid development in government. "Historically the friction that slows down development is around the end process, the time to complete the procurement and ensure security is correct," she explained. "If we can take some of the friction out [of using cloud computing] and focus on mission, we won't be consumed by the management process."
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