Growing adoption of cloud computing could improve data sharing and promote collaboration among federal, state and local governments, according to federal CIO Vivek Kundra.
In an interview Tuesday with Government Technology, Kundra called cloud computing a "huge opportunity" to remake intergovernmental IT relationships.
"For far too long we've been thinking very much vertically and making sure things are separated," he said. "Now we have an opportunity to lead with solutions that by nature encourage collaboration both horizontally and vertically."
Kundra also said he's re-examining federal funding rules that state and local officials say promote poor IT system design and inefficient use of scarce dollars. Shortly after last November's election, representatives from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) met with President Barack Obama's transition team about modifying rules for spending money given to states for operating federal health care, transportation, social services and public safety programs. NASCIO contends that cost-allocation guidelines and technology requirements tied to these funds often clash with state data-sharing and enterprise architecture initiatives.
"That's an issue we are actively looking at right now," Kundra said. "From my experience with the commonwealth of Virginia [as assistant secretary of commerce and trade] and also the District of Columbia [as chief technology officer], that's an issue that we dealt with and we're actually working with NASCIO to figure out what will be the best path forward."
He said it was too early in the process to reveal specific reforms.
Speaking Wednesday at a cloud computing symposium in Washington, D.C., Kundra said he's moving forward with plans to create a storefront where federal government agencies could easily acquire standard, secure cloud computing applications.
"This will abstract all the complexity for agencies. They won't need to worry about FISMA [Federal Information Security Management Act] compliance and certifications. Agencies could provision cloud services in a real-time basis from a simple storefront. We're looking at vendors and moving forward," Kundra said.
Making cloud computing solutions easier to obtain will drive standardization and consolidation in the federal government, he contended.
"What's happened for too long is a debate over how to consolidate. This discussion hasn't led to deliverables," he said. "We haven't been able to move forward because we make it too hard and too complex. There are too many steps to provision cloud services. It's easier for agencies to spend 10 times more money to build services that are already out there."
Although consumer cloud technologies could dramatically simplify government's ability to acquire common services, Kundra acknowledged that approach won't work for tasks involving sensitive federal data. He said a private cloud could be developed for these activities, and he's working with an 11-member group of federal CIOs to sort out which data is suitable for consumer cloud applications and which data must be housed on government-owned infrastructure.
"We will build a center of gravity around information technology. It makes no economic sense to continue to plow capital into agency data centers," he said. "Part of the challenge is to think how we hit the reset button on that and figure out how to share resources across the board."