Federal CIO Vivek Kundra is set to depart his office in August for a fellowship at Harvard University. What will Kundra’s successor have on his or her desk?

In interviews with Government Technology this month, state CIOs said standardization and consolidation will continue to be key issues.

New Hampshire CIO Bill Rogers said he believes the federal budget crunch will make it tougher to invest in new technologies. He said the next federal CIO will still be knee-deep in standardization, cloud computing and consolidation issues. Whoever is appointed to the post won’t be able to get around the looming specter of funding challenges.

“You have to spend some money in the beginning to get projects implemented,” Rogers said.

Illinois CIO Sean Vinck wasn’t so sure. When asked if budget concerns might have a negative impact on the changes Kundra began and projects in the future, he said resources will always be a challenge, but what he learned from Kundra was that it’s not that we’re spending too little money, but we’re spending too much.

Kundra said his office had saved $3 billion in only five months through its IT reform plan, which involved moving the federal government toward a cloud computing strategy, beginning the consolidation of more than 2,000 federal data centers and canceling underperforming or over budget IT projects.

“Kundra’s whole tenure was about we’re spending a hell of a lot of money and we’re not getting where we need to get,” Vinck said, adding that success in IT challenges is more a function of management strategy and flexibility.

Vinck felt strongly that health-care reform should be a major priority for the person stepping into Kundra’s shoes. The Illinois CIO said the timelines and objectives of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 — which involves the states establishing health benefit exchanges by 2014 — is “ambitious.”

His concern is that some states may not be able to meet deadlines without the federal government making strides to provide states with clear instructions.

“Unless the federal government has a game plan that is concise and realistic ... we will not meet those time frames,” Vinck stressed. “It is absolutely critical that [Kundra’s] successor understand that and realize his or her mission is to shepherd those agencies and make it so federal agencies are speaking with a unified voice.”

Brenda Decker, CIO of Nebraska, didn’t pinpoint health benefit exchanges as an issue area of concern directly, but she did say that vague or confusing initiatives coming from the federal government was a regular occurrence in the course of IT business between the states and Uncle Sam.

“That’s one of the things we tried to work with Vivek on,” Decker said. “I think he was making some headway, but not as much and as quickly as everyone wished he had.”

She added that leadership changes often bring hesitation from decision-makers, particularly until the new person gets comfortable. Some IT issues Kundra was working on may take awhile to get back on track.

“I think there will be some things that will stumble and stall for a period of time, if for no other reason than that people aren’t going to operate for fear of what will happen next and what the next person will do,” Decker explained.

Prior to Kundra’s arrival, Decker said she and many of her colleagues felt states were brought in after many federal program decisions were made, forcing states to find the right solution to meet mandates. Decker said that Kundra made great strides in changing and improving the federal-state relationship and stressed the importance of continuing to build that bridge.

Georgia CIO Calvin Rhodes agreed and called Kundra’s assertive effort to reach out to states “unprecedented.”

“If the person following him does not embrace those things, I think that would truly be missed,” Rhodes said.

Editor’s note: Read the August 2011 issue of Public CIO magazine for an extended look into Kundra’s tenure as the first federal CIO.

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.