May 07 2009

What Drives the Federal IT Agenda?

As the new U.S. chief information officer, Vivek Kundra faces many challenges in driving a common federal technology architecture. However, he’s getting a lot of input from his former colleagues in state IT leadership and notes that interaction with the citizenry isn’t limited to the federal government, but happens at the state level as well.

Kundra’s experience in state and local government IT will serve him well in his current post. “I’ve served in every form of government except tribal,” he noted in a recent National Association of State CIOs conference keynote speech in Baltimore.

Most recently, Kundra served as chief technology officer for the District of Columbia. Before that, he worked as assistant secretary of technology and assistant secretary of commerce and trade in Virginia, and in infrastructure technology for Arlington County, Va. He’s also done stints in the private sector.

Kundra says the Obama administration is focused on five goals for using technology:

• Open and transparent government. As you’ve no doubt heard, there’s a big push for government transparency. Kundra cited the state of Maryland as having one of the best websites detailing recovery spending.

• Reducing the cost of government. Unfortunately, not every IT investment pays off. The feds spend $71 billion on IT each year, Kundra notes, but some of those investments have gone south. The private sector deserves some of the blame for over-hyping the potential of new technology, he says, but he wants government to better focus on the reasons for IT investments and how those investments are performing. For example, as the D.C. CTO, Kundra used a stock market model to evaluate technology projects.

• Cybersecurity. This area is crucial, period.

• Connecting the town square. Participatory democracy gives citizens a voice in government through social networking and other Web 2.0 tools and platforms.

• Innovation. Government must take an innovative path to harnessing technology. For example, the Transportation Security Agency proposed a blog and was told it would cost $600,000, says Kundra, marveling at that figure. Undaunted, the organization turned to free technology for its Evolution of Security blog.

Kundra recommends encouraging risk and ensuring innovation is baked into the culture.