April 30, 2009 By Tod Newcombe, Editor
Vivek Kundra, President Barack Obama's new federal CIO, spoke to some old and familiar colleagues Thursday when he addressed the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) during their midyear conference in Baltimore. The one-time chief technology officer of the District of Columbia began by acknowledging the important contributions made by state IT leaders during the president's transition period prior to his inauguration.
"We had multiple conversations with CIOs across the country, talking about how do we advance a 21st-century technology agenda to move the country forward, and how do we ensure that we are taking into consideration what it takes when it comes to interacting with the American people," said Kundra. He worked on the administration's transition team for technology before his appointment as the nation's first federal CIO.
With $787 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Kundra touched on the key issue that intersects IT with the federal government's stimulus plan: transparency.
"How do you ensure that you have the right technologies that enable that transparency?" he asked. Kundra answered by pointing to the guidance the transition team received from state CIOs, in terms of setting an architecture and standards to ensure transparency has a chance for success.
Kundra then alluded to one of the reasons he got the job less than two months ago: He pointed out that he has now served at every level of government except tribal, and also has a background in private-sector IT.
But Kundra's key message was the five areas he is focusing on in the administration's agenda:
1. Open and transparent government. Kundra said the level of transparency in the Obama administration will be "unprecedented" so that Americans "know where the money is going."
2. Lowering the cost of government. "We spend $71 billion on IT annually. Unfortunately some of those investments have not paid dividends," said Kundra, who used to track the District of Columbia's IT programs as if they were a portfolio of stock investments. "Historically government has not done a good job of defining its requirements during the bidding process," he added. Likewise, the private sector has sometimes overpromised the potential for emerging technologies. Kundra wants to see both the public and private sector do a better job when it comes to evaluating technologies before making an investment.
3. Cyber-security. Kundra simply labeled this issue "crucial." He called for government to be better prepared to respond and highlighted work at the state level, particularly New York's Information Sharing and Analysis Center as a possible model for cyber-security collaboration.
4. Participatory democracy. To ensure Americans have a voice in government, Kundra is working with his colleague, Beth Noveck, who is deputy director for open government in the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the executive office of the president. Together they're creating a platform that engages citizens in a meaningful way. Noveck, who spoke earlier in the day to NASCIO, said many of the existing methods of engaging participation don't generate useful results. Her office is involved in creating new methods that will fix the problem.
5. Innovation. The CIO hopes that he can urge the federal government to step outside of its typical way of thinking when it comes to IT and find new, innovative and less-costly ways to leverage technology. If that happens, government would become less complex to the ordinary citizen, he said. "In these tough economic times, the public sector needs to think about the promise of technology, How do you leverage innovation and how [do you] bake that into the culture, so you can encourage innovation and boldness?"
Kundra ended by mentioning some of the bold efforts undertaken by CIOs in several states, and how they are leading to a shift away from the old ways of using computers and his hopes to replicate that kind of change within the federal sector.
But as one former government CIO, who asked not to be identified, pointed out, "Federal CIOs have strong views on what they should be doing with IT. Bringing about the change Kundra envisions won't be so easy."
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