It took weeks to become official, but Washington, D.C., CTO Vivek Kundra was named Thursday to the top information technology post in the federal government. It wasn't exactly the position most observers expected, however.
President Barack Obama named Kundra the "federal CIO" -- a new position that will oversee technology investments and technology spending by the federal government, according to the White House. Kundra also reportedly will serve as e-government administrator for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
In a conference call Thursday, Kundra said he would work to ensure that the CIOs of federal agencies are advancing agendas that embrace open government, revolutionize technology in the public sector and "reject the view that the public sector has to lag behind the private sector."
Kundra said Thursday he is working on launching www.data.gov, which he said would "democratize" data possessed by the federal government. As the District of Columbia's CTO, Kundra launched a similar Web site called the D.C. Data Catalog that published in feeds in real time from the district's government departments -- everything from building permits to road kill pickups.
Over the past month, numerous media reported that Kundra -- who served as a member of Obama's transition team -- would be the administrator for e-government and information technology in the OMB. But as federal CIO, it appears Kundra's responsibilities will be expanded further. "The federal CIO establishes and oversees enterprise architecture to ensure system interoperability and information sharing and ensure information security and privacy across the federal government," according to the White House.
President Barack Obama said in a statement Thursday morning that Kundra brings valuable experience to the new position.
"I have directed him to work to ensure that we are using the spirit of American innovation and the power of technology to improve performance and lower the cost of government operations. As chief information officer, he will play a key role in making sure our government is running in the most secure, open and efficient way possible," Obama said. The president still plans to name a federal chief technology officer, another new position that will work closely with Kundra.
Obama's appointments to top federal IT jobs have been closely watched by state officials because of their potential impact on federal funding rules for state and local government programs. National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) President Gopal Khanna, CIO of Minnesota, said appointees with state or local experience could aid NASCIO's effort to modify OMB funding requirements that state CIOs say encourage development of fragmented and inefficient IT systems.
"It's important because the e-gov administrator is very much focused on federal government and coordinating the work of all the federal CIOs," Khanna said. "Today, federal CIOs have very little impact and influence on the technology component of the flow of funds to the states. My hope is that since OMB drives the construct of those rules we'll be able to work with the appointee to help influence that."
NASCIO officials met with Obama's transition team after the election and presented a brief with suggested changes to OMB Circular A-87, which contains funding guidelines for federal programs that administered by the states.
"State CIOs have been working diligently to break down the 'silos' -- or the way that physical infrastructure is placed and configured, applications developed and IT services delivered," the brief says. "The general experience of
state CIOs is frustration with federal funding constraints that are at odds with this goal."
Kundra, 34, quickly made a name for himself in Washington, D.C., after just two years as the district's CTO, garnering recognition for deploying hosted solutions like Google Apps; organizing an open source software development contest called Apps for Democracy that challenged the district's citizens to develop mash-up applications from publicly available data; and releasing real-time data feeds on the district's Web portal.
Kundra also started a unique IT portfolio management model that tracks Washington, D.C., projects like investments in the stock market.
"We use that [stock] data to decide whether to hold on to the project, invest more or kill it -- similar to what portfolios in a private market would do as far as sell, buy or hold," Kundra told Government Technology in July. "That's brought a lot of scrutiny and moved us aggressively in terms of killing projects that won't deliver."
But Kundra made it clear Thursday he would also be working on issues beyond citizen-facing applications. "We also want to focus on, 'How do we look at these back-end systems, whether that's in the Department of Defense, or whether that's Health and Human Services, and ensure that information technology -- that we're having a holistic view of it, and not focusing purely on e-government."
Video: Vivek Kundra, CTO of Washington D.C., describes how Web 2.0 tools are improving procurement for the city government.
Kundra's focus on efficient spending could be attractive to the Obama administration as it attempts to eliminate waste from the federal budget amid a ballooning $10 trillion national deficit and what many economists expect will be a protracted recession.
"[Kundra] is a very smart person, who combines counter-intuitive visions with the ability to execute and maintain support from his political and business leaders," said Andrea Di Maio, an analyst for Gartner. "In such challenging times, with budget issues, a daunting task to monitor and measure the outcome of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a recent call by the president to review relationships with federal contractors, the desire to socialize information and engage all stakeholders on line, Vivek will be immediately confronted with a tough prioritization task."
At least two other Obama appointees -- national CTO and cyber-security czar who are yet to be named -- will have significant impact on state and local IT operations.
The national CTO will influence how the country develops its digital infrastructure, said Khanna. In particular, that post could be crucial in treating federal, state and local IT systems as a continuum -- not separate entities. The cyber-security czar could have a similar impact on the federal government's approach to IT security by viewing state, local and federal systems as one "technology ecosystem" instead of separate parts, Khanna said.
Obama has filled neither the CTO nor cyber-security posts. Beth Simone Noveck, a law professor at New York Law School, and Padmasree Warrior, CTO for Cisco Systems, are among those rumored to be in line for the CTO post. In February, Obama asked Melissa Hathaway -- a former Booz Allen Hamilton consultant -- to review the security of federal computer systems. There is speculation that Hathaway will be appointed to the cyber-security position.
Kundra was just named to Government Technology's Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers for his accomplishments as Washington, D.C., CTO.