No one can accuse Vivek Kundra of not hitting the ground running. In the six months since his appointment as federal CIO, Kundra is seemingly everywhere, making the case for radically changing how the federal government uses technology and launching initiatives aimed at nudging his vision closer to reality.
He's been the subject of high-profile coverage in The New York Times, The Washington Post and InformationWeek. And Kundra's speaking schedule has been equally hectic, including recent appearances at Wired magazine's Disruptive by Design conference and the National Defense University's Cloud Computing Symposium.
Government Technology spoke with Kundra in mid-July, just days after he unveiled a new online IT dashboard that tracks the status of technology deployments in federal agencies. Kundra predicted the tool - part of a revamped USAspending.gov transparency Web site - would hold agencies more accountable for the performance of IT investments. Since then, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has temporarily halted 45 overbudget or behind-schedule IT projects that were identified by the dashboard.
Kundra also talked about how he intends to make it easier for federal agencies to adopt cloud-computing applications - and how the cloud-computing model could invite better collaboration among federal, state and local governments. Here's what he had to say:
What's your top priority at this moment?
From an IT perspective, one of the key areas we're focused on is leveraging the power of technology to fundamentally change the way agencies operate. Part of that involves making sure the $76 billion the U.S. government spends is managed properly and that we make the tough choices in terms of divesting from programs and projects that don't perform and investing in ones that perform and yield the dividends they promised in the very beginning.
Video: Federal CIO Vivek Kundra explains why his move to cloud computing is good for state and local governments.
How will you do that?
When you look at an organization like the U.S. government that has more than 10,000 systems, a key focus has to be about ensuring we lay a new foundation built on the principles of transparency, accountability and open government. So with that, what we've done is launched the IT dashboard as part of USAspending.gov. Then-Sen. Obama actually introduced the bill [the Obama-Coburn 2006 Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act] around transparency of the federal budget. The dashboard itself actually moves us away from the era of faceless accountability to where we know who is responsible for the IT projects, how they are performing, whether they are over budget or behind schedule. All of that data is made publically available. So we can hold agencies accountable for how those projects perform.
What do you believe the impact of doing that will be?
We're already seeing a huge impact. The moment we went live, we saw massive change in terms of agencies. CIOs and project managers across the board were giving us better and cleaner data at a more regular interval. We went from getting data from an annual to quarterly basis, and now we get it on a monthly basis and are moving toward real time. Second, we are already seeing agencies, such as Veterans Affairs, which is shortly going to announce the number of IT projects that they're looking at and are making sure these projects are being temporarily put on hold that don't produce the dividends. Agencies across the board are examining their entire portfolio line by line, making sure they are properly managed. And if they are behind schedule or over budget, they are getting to the root cause