Something unusual is happening in Washington, D.C., these days. And I'm not referring to the steady stream of news about the president, Congress or the Supreme Court. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra generated a tidal wave of headlines this summer when he unveiled, USAspending.gov, a new public Web site for tracking technology spending. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post, the nation's most prominent daily newspapers, covered his announcement, not to mention every technology-related publication and Web site, including www.govtech.com.
When the national media starts focusing on the government CIO's role, you know the public perception of government and technology is about to change.
Video: Federal CIO Vivek Kundra explains why his move to cloud computing is good for state and local governments.
This is a unique moment for the public-sector CIO community. For too long, CIOs have labored in government's boiler room, toiling away to connect the digital pipes, launching applications, and stitching together the bits and pieces of what we call e-government. Some CIOs have even managed to become influential IT strategists, sitting beside their elected CEO, and helping align policy, business and IT to make government more compatible with 21st-century America. But the CIO's role as utility player has been too common in government. Until now.
As almost everyone knows by now, Kundra made a name for himself as chief technology officer of the District of Columbia by aggressively pushing innovation, using cloud computing applications before most knew what the term meant, and treating IT projects as investments that rose or fell in value depending on their progress and success. Now as federal CIO, Kundra grabbed national attention when he made IT the poster child for President Barack Obama's pledge to make government more transparent. In June, he launched a Web site that tracks IT spending, including all the contracts held by vendors within every federal agency. Eventually USAspending.gov will track costs for all federal projects, but for now, only IT is on the most visible spending dashboard in government.
The project, which took just six weeks to develop, was a shot across the bow of all the critics who questioned Kundra's ability to repeat his innovative leadership style on the national stage. He not only grabbed the attention of the media, but also of federal agency CIOs, who can now expect to be asked to do more, in terms of innovation, transparency and change, as time goes on.
The rest of the public-sector CIO community should stand up and take notice too. Sure, Kundra isn't constrained by the same budget problems as state and local CIOs, but he certainly didn't have a blank check while working for Washington, D.C. He still got his staff and the city to think and do things that were once thought impossible.
With the public-sector portion of our national economy growing, as it takes on more work during these troubled economic times, IT is going to play a significant factor in helping government carry out its expanding role. It's nice to know we have a role model on the national stage who can elevate the public CIO's position to the place where it so rightly belongs.