Vivek Kundra: Washington, D.C., Technology Chief Democratizes Data

Vivek Kundra: Washington, D.C., Technology Chief Democratizes Data

by / March 3, 2009

The 2009 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers have star power, but arguably none more so than Vivek Kundra, the CTO of Washington, D.C. Since he was named CTO in 2007, he has become recognized as an innovative leader who relishes the opportunity to "democratize" data.

"My first approach coming into the public sector here in D.C. was to take as much data and put it out in the public domain as possible. I had three goals in mind: No. 1 was to drive transparency; No. 2 was to engage citizens; No. 3 was to ensure that we were lowering the cost of government operations," Kundra said.

How did he achieve this? He put 216 data feeds onto the Washington, D.C., Web site so the general public could easily access real-time feeds -- in XML and other formats -- of everything from building permits to road kill pickups. With this in place, the district sponsored the Apps for Democracy contest, which awarded prize money in November 2008 to contestants who built open source mash-up applications that integrate the data feeds.


Video: Washington, D.C.'s Vivek Kundra describes how the city uses Web video to improve procurement.

The philosophy is that citizens can be co-creators of good government. The public submitted 47 applications in 30 days -- the contest cost only $50,000. "The beauty of it is that when we were going through the judging, a large part of the conversation was about how to take these applications and deploy them in government operations," Kundra said.

To control costs in the district's IT budget, Kundra transformed project management by treating every project like a publicly traded stock. The most efficient projects get additional capital, and underperforming ones don't. This included in-house software. Kundra picked low-cost Google Apps for his department rather than building a $4 million intranet.


Matt Williams Contributing Writer

Matt Williams was previously the news editor of, and is now a contributor to Government Technology and Public CIO magazines. He also previously served as the managing editor of TechWire, a sister publication to Government Technology.2