Vivek Kundra: Federal CIO in His Own Words

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The following article contains several audio excerpts and transcripts from Vivek Kundra’s first conference call as the newly appointed Federal CIO. After weeks of speculation it was formally announced today that President Obama has appointed Kundra, who had previously been serving as the CTO for Washington D.C.. In his previous position, Kundra pushed the boundaries of Information Technology and set the standard for transparency and accountability adopting Google Apps as a collaboration platform, video taping vendor interactions, and instituting a rigorous regime of metrics and accountability for government contracts.

In the following audio excerpts you’ll hear about Kundra’s plans to help push Federal IT towards more transparency and accountability. You’ll also get a sense that Kundra, through his interaction with the CIO council is going to start unifying the federal government’s approach to procurement and planning. In one of Kundra’s answers, he suggests that President Obama will be announcing another appointment for a CTO position. This conference call was recorded on Thursday morning, shortly after the Whitehouse published a press release naming Kundra as the newly appointed Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO).


Kundra’s Introductory Remarks

VK: Good morning, I want to first say how humbled and honored I am to
serve under the Obama administration and for the President in terms of
appointing me as the Federal CIO. I’m really excited about the
opportunity to fundamentally look at how we’re deploying technology in
the federal government and rethinking what we could do in terms of
finding the innnovative path to lower the cost of government
operations [while] at the same time looking at how can we
fundamentally change the way the public sector interacts with the
public.

VK: How do we make sure that the government is about “We the People”
and that we engage citizens in terms of how their government functions
– holding government officials accountable in terms of making sure
they know where money is going throughout the public sector, ensuring
that we have the ability to run an open, transparent, participatory,
and collaborative government. At the same time be mindful that in
these tough economic times when we’re facing two wars, we’re looking
at an economic crisis and the energy and healthcare issues that this
country faces. How can we leverage the power of technology to make
sure that the country is moving in the right direction. We look at
federal IT spending, the federal government is the largest single
buyer of technology in the world at $71 billions dollars annually.

VK: Going through, as the president and director Orszag promised, going
through line item by line item looking at the budget and ensuring that
those resources are spent effectively and that we hold agencies
accountable for how that money is spent is going to be a big part of
my role here, and secondly, I’m going to be working very closely with
all federal CIOs in terms of the agency level to ensure that they are
advancing an agenda that embraces open government, an agenda that
looks at how we can fundamentally revolutionize technology in the
public sector and reject the view that the public sector has to lag
behind the private sector. That we need to embrace new technologies
that are going to change the way we serve our constituents and at the
same time ensure that the federal government operates in an efficient
way.

Kundra’s Role as Federal CIO

VK: So I’ll be serving in both capacities: both as the Federal CIO and
as the e-gov and IT administration, but in terms of the portfolio…
if you look at some of the innovations that have happened since 2002,
it is not just e-government, we also want to focus on how do we look
at the backend system, whether that is in the Department of Defense or
Health and Human Services, and ensure that we’re having a wholistic
view of [information technology] and not just focusing on
e-government.

VK: So, the CTO will be named in due time by the President, but what I can
talk about is my role in terms of the Federal CIO role. The Federal
CIO role is going to be largely focused on 1. the operations of the
federal government, looking at the $71 billion and ensure that we’re
spending that money effectively, 2. on driving a transparency and open
government agenda to ensure that the public has access to information,
the public has access to government and we rethink how the federal
government interacts with the public in an information economy and 3.
we want to look at the innovative path in terms of leveraging
innovations that are happening whether is it in the private sector or
in the NGO community and applying them to the federal government and
changing the velocity with which we adopt new technologies.

VK: Vivek Kundra on data.gov and the Imperative to Distribute Data

VK: One of the things we want to do is embark on launching data.gov
which would democratize data and give data access to the public and
based on that challenge whether it is citizens, NGOs the private
sector to help us think through how we address some of the toughest
problems in the public sector.

VK: Data.gov will publish data feeds, so we’ll have a vast array of
data, and the way I like to think about this is that if you think of
two forms of data that have been published in the federal government
that have fundamentally transformed the economy. One example is the
National Institute of Health working with other world bodies when they
published the Human Genome Project data online. What that did is it
created an entire revolution in personalized medicine where you ended
up having over 500 drugs that were created and that are in the
pipeline coming into the FDA.

VK: Second, is what happened in the geospatial community when the
defense department decided to release data around satellites you
created this GPS revolution where now you could go to your local car
rental company and get a GPS device or your iPhone and get
directions.

VK: In the same way, in the same spirit, there is a lot of data that
the federal government has and what we need to do is, we need to make
sure that all that data that is not private that is not restricted for
national security reasons can be made public. And the question we
should be thinking about even when it comes to FOIA is how do we begin
with the default assumption that we put information out in the public
domain then the second question is what needs to be private rather
than the other way around.

Vivek Kundra on the Need to Transform the Government: The Digital Economy

VK: One of the challenges that the government faces is, as we move more
and more information, in terms of published information or whether it
is [online] content, out in cyberspace. What’s really important is
that, on the back-end, the government is going to need to go through a
transformation to ensure that we have the right resources to be able
to respond to a new economy – to the digital economy.

VK: An example is what Facebook has been able to do in terms of
self-organizing and civic participation. What they’ve been able to do
is that they have over 140 million or so users and they’ve been able
to self-organize on issues, on policy, on problems and create a
movement so that people can be heard. That’s one model. The second
model is the two-way interaction between the federal government and
citizens. And you are absolutely right on that end, it is going to
require massive transformation on the back-end to ensure that the
government is able to deal with this new reality. And, frankly,
those investments haven’t been historically made and that’s one of the
things we are going to do – is ensure that we look at and rethink the
workforce for the 21st century.

VK: Third is making information available such as data feeds so
applications can be created in a context rich model. If you look at
government what they’ve done historically is they’ve just put up a
website and they’ll say this is Agency X. Unfortunately, if you look
at the traffic on those websites and you compare that traffic to a
facebook or a craigslist, it just pales in comparison and one of the
things we need to start thinking about is how do we put information in
the right context.

VK: And what I mean by that is, for example, if you look at April 15
or if you look at certain days that matter where the federal
government will “fire” certain actions, we need to make sure that the
federal government is putting that information in the right context.
Because, I may care about taxes around April 15th, or I may care
about another issue depending on what time of the day it is.
Government needs to move towards context rich information flows and
engagement.

Kundra on Open Source

VK: I think you look at open source, as a technology, whether it’s
mediawiki, for example… with Wikipedia what we did in the District
of Columbia was that we had a wikipedia solution that allowed every
single employee to collaborate and have access to information. I
think there is also a place for specialized software, you look at the
FAA or if you are looking at DHS, there are some mission critical
systems that you can’t apply an open source solution to. We need
to have a very pragmatic, balanced approach in terms of software. I
would argue that, whether it is open source or proprietary software
one of the biggest ticket items when it comes to information
technology on that $71 billion dollars is the money the federal
government spends on contracts and contracts that, frankly, some of
them haven’t performed very well and there have not been consequences.
And, we need to become serious and tough on those contractors that
are not going to deliver. Eliminating those contracts and making sure
that we have consultants and contractors that are adding value to the
federal government.

Kundra’s Example: Social Security Data Center

VK: A simple example would be the Social Security Administration that’s
getting funding to build out a brand new data center and what we want
to make sure is, as the Social Security administration makes that
investment, that it is looked at in a much broader context than [it
has traditionally received] which has been in specific silos. What
that has led to is massive proliferation of infrastructure that is
segmented and not interoperable. What we want to do is look at the
entire portfolio to ensure that as we make this investment we’re
looking at them across the federal government and saying, you know
what, if we’re investing right now to build a whole new data center
how does that play into the larger vision of federal IT and how does
that play into leveraging that investment for other functions beyond
the Social Security Administration.

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  • http://wp.colliertech.org/cj C.J.

    “data” is still a plural

  • http://cs.uchicago.edu J.W.

    @C.J.:

    Excerpt from Unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, entry for “datum”:

    “…Used in pl. form with sing. construction. …by general usage data is now accepted as a singular collective noun.”

    The earliest example of this usage cited here by the OED is from 1807.

  • http://news.review-of.com News Review

    hope all the appointments made by President Obama will work.. and we give him the benefit of the doubt.. Good Luck Mr. Kundra.. He has a good background.. Maybe he has a lot to contribute for the benefit of American people..

  • http://small-businesses.us Norbert Mayer-Wittmann

    I especially liked this statement:

    “Government needs to move towards context rich information flows and engagement.”

    This shows that Mr. Kundra is sensitive to the simple fact that the participants in an information process need to speak the same language.

    Natural language is the most fundamental information technology — and so utilizing the Wisdom of the Language ( http://sn.im/wisdom-link ) promises to be very effective and also very efficient investment in Government 2.0 (and that is something that President Obama also seems to understand very well).

    :) nmw

  • Lynn V.

    The new Federal CIO should seriously question whether the SSA should even build a new data center. It would be much more cost effective and faster to market if they would leverage the wholesale / retail data center market that exists. A lot of companies specialize in this – we don’t need SSA building (or even running) their own. A waste of capital. Unfortunately – all we seem to be hearing is “Web 2.0 speak” rather than pragmatic business sense about Information Technology.

  • Andrew

    It seems to me he could be the “Hari Seldon” from those Asmove books.

    I wonder if it’s possible to move to a Full Democracy with Gov Issue PDA’s.

    Imagine the instant benefit considering these devices could also be used to transmit audio, video and data transmissions as well.

    What an age we live in when the designer of face book and other Social Sites is picked to refine out systems of democracy

    “I’m really excited about the opportunity to fundamentally look at how we’re deploying technology in the federal government and rethinking what we could do in terms of finding the innnovative path to lower the cost of government operations [while] at the same time looking at how can we fundamentally change the way the public sector interacts with the public.”

    —-“the way the public sector interacts with the public.”

    I like OBAMA’s pick. He is part of the newer generations style of thinking.

  • Soraya Scaife

    From “No More Gobbledygook” plain language in Government to better IT communications within Government and between Government and its people, I like it. I hope you the very best, Mr. Kundra.

  • Dhruv

    I think its great that Obama has created this post. This is LONG overdue!

    And I think Vivek seems experienced and practical in his thinking.

    Improvement of our technology systems, both in terms of equipment, hardware, software, interoperability, improvement and efficiency of networks, intercommunication, etc. will greatly help our govt. If the private sector can benefit from these very same areas, so can our government.

    I’m very proud of Obama so far.

  • http://www.digitalsamfunn.com Francis

    On Govt transformation
    Vivek Kundra should watch “Us Now” (www.usnowfilm.com) to get a sense of grassroots democracy and innovation.

    And probably promote the creation of a software-powered infrastructure needed to ensure that grassroots innovation thrives. Here’s my attempt to define the “Societal Digital Infrastructure” http://tinyurl.com/bhaevf

  • Robert Young

    Does it bother anybody else that this appointment reinforces the shibboleth that Americans are technologically incompetent? Granted, he was local to DC, and thus high profile. Some times the implied is stronger than the factual.

  • http://www.discursive.com Tim O'Brien

    @Robert Young, I take high offense at even the slightest suggestion that Kundra is not “an American”. He was raised in Maryland, his family move here when he was 11 years old. But, even if he had just taken the Oath of Citizen, our country does not have second class citizens. Name another “American” like Kundra who was married at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. You probably wouldn’t be happy to know that Padmasree Warrior was another potential candidate for the same job (and since Obama is appointing a CTO, there is a chance she may still serve in this administration).

    Who is American? Are some people more American than others because they happen not to be “naturalized” citizens? Is the Governor of California an “American” to you? Does it worry you that he lived in India and Tanzania as a child and that he speaks Swahili? I guess you think it is awful that the Commonwealth of Virginia appointed someone named Aneesh Chopra as Secretary of Technology, someone with a similarly “Unamerican name”.

    Your suggestion is offensive to this Irishman. At one time in the blighted history of this country, my people were discriminated against by people who though us less “American” by virtue of our unmistakably Irish last names. No Irish Need Apply was the norm in places like Boston. My people weren’t considered American for years, if you think Kundra isn’t an American, then neither am I.

    Another suggestion, as you take some time to reconsider your nativist views, you might want to look up the word “shibboleth”. From your usage of the word, I’m not sure if you know what it means.

  • http://www.discursive.com Tim O'Brien

    @Lynn V.

    I think you miss the point that Kundra is discussing just what you are suggesting. He wants to make sure that the SSA doesn’t just blindly acquire yet another $100 million data center, and he wants the OMB to be involved in thinking about leveraging solutions that might not have been on the table.

    I would like to see the US Government enlist the help of Google and companies like Amazon with EC2 to start thinking about how all federal agencies could standardize on a common application architecture based on MapReduce, GFS, using technologies like Hadoop.

    Maybe you were distracted by “all the Web 2.0 speak”. What does that mean? Is, “I’d like to save us all billions of dollars by thinking about better ways to procure technology” web 2.0 speak?

  • phil fraulino

    What will be the interaction or functionality of the CIO’s office in the Office of the President at the White House and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget(OMB) also under the Office of the President. The director of this latter office was often referred to as the OMB CIO and the White House’s CIO. The OMB position is appointed by thr Presodent and requires congressional approval. The tasks and programs of this subject were the province of the OMB office and administered as part of its portfolio.

  • Thijs

    In his previous position, Kundra pushed the boundaries of Information Technology and set the standard for transparency and accountability adopting Google Apps as a collaboration platform

    So are you saying that he’s increasing transparency by feeding government information into a corporate database owned by Google? Im curious what kind of role Google Apps played here and how their involvement can be beneficial to the public?

  • http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/03/vivek-kundra-federal-cio-in-hi.html Tim O'Brien

    @Thijs: those are all good questions. When I hear that the DC government embraced Google Apps, I too wonder about the privacy and security consequences of the decision. If the federal government is the largest purchaser of technology in the world, maybe they have an opportunity to create an isolated, private “cloud” that leverages some of the same technologies developed by Google (named MapReduce, BigTable, GFS). DC never had that opportunity, but one could anticipate that, with the appropriate resources, the Federal Government could easily out-Google Google and start leading industry rather than following it.

    But, your question about feeding information into a corporate database is an important one.

  • Arunabh Das

    Padamsree for Federal CTO. Go go go!! – Arunabh Das

  • Zoomzoom

    Another area that offers opportunity for increasing productivity and lowering costs, is using technology for flexible working; breaking the link between department employees and department workplace. It becomes government employee and government workplace. Reading University (UK) says there are 5 levels – most departments are at level 3 or 4. The UK govt is proposing a hotel.gov concept (level 5).

  • kundracrook

    CNN just reported that Vivek is on leave from his new position…

    President Barack Obama’s pick for federal chief information officer is on
    leave from his position following a raid by federal agents of his former
    offices and the arrest of two men in connection with a D.C. government
    corruption scandal.

    Speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, a
    White House official said Vivek Kundra is on leave from his post “until
    further details become known.”

    Mr. Kundra served as D.C. Chief Technology Officer from 2007 until this
    year, when Mr. Obama selected him for the newly-created position.

    FBI agents raided the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO)
    Thursday. Yusuf Acar, an OCTO employee, and Sushil Bansal, the chief
    executive officer of a D.C.-based information technology consulting
    company, have been arrested and appeared in U.S. District Court Thursday
    on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and money laundering.

  • Lynn V.

    Tim,

    Thanks for the comment back.

    All the “Web 2.0 speak” has its place. MapReduce, GFS, Hadoop and the like are all building blocks for certain types of applications – but not all applications. Google’s App Engine has not been a raging success to date (limited by the need to write in Jython, a truly narrow class of services, etc.). Amazon WS has had better luck – richer and more atomic services – but still the technology, compliance and economic limits of using the Amazon “cloud” will prohibit most applications from ever running there.

    There’s a lot of software out there – and new application platforms do not necessarily negate the value of the older application platforms.

    My impression of Kundra is that it is unclear he understands that – and may lean too far to the “Google is the answer to everything” camp.

    What worries me, as you stated in your first paragraph (“In his previous position, Kundra … instituting a rigorous regime of metrics and accountability for government contracts”), is that his “rigorous regime” didn’t extend to good oversight of his Chief Security Officer, good and basic principles around asset and portfolio management, and good IT financial practices as exhibited by the recent news from the D.C. Office of the CTO. Those are just as important as getting the latest Google Gadget on your desktop.

  • http://www.channelingreality.com Vicky Davis

    Thank you so much for posting these audio clips. I’ve been onto the issue of “transforming” our health care system since I heard a presentation on “personalized” medicine at the NGA conference.

    Basically, what they are trying to do with our health care system is to replace doctors with lesser qualified NP’s and PA’s – with computer decision support systems. If they are successful at getting this “health care” system implemented, they will have the DNA for the entire US population and they will be able to do live fire genetic research on us.

    The (former now) Director of the NIH who established the precedent for remote medicine – beginning with radiology was Dr. Elias Zerhouni, an Algerian. He’s gone now – but I have no doubt that the NIH is totally corrupted with people who intend to do us harm.

  • http://www.nbcwashington.com Steve Morgan

    “Transparency allows people to participate in the public civic process, to look at where their money is going, how it’s being spent and to hold the government officials accountable,” Mr. Kundra said in his speech. “That’s one of the central pillars of this administration as we talk about driving forward, as far as radical transparency is concerned.” FBI agents raided the city’s technology offices about 9 a.m. Yusuf Acar, an employee in the chief technology officer’s office, and Sushil Bansal, the chief executive officer of a Washington-based information technology company, were arrested and appeared Thursday in U.S. District Court on charges of conspiracy to commit bribery and money laundering.
    I’m a former government official, speaking on background, Kundra’s ability to serve as overseer of U.S. government technology policy and practices is in serious question and jeoparody. The fact that Kundra himself is not accused of any wrongdoing is beside the point (but the full story has not come out yet). As the District of Columbia’s chief technology officer since 2007, he was responsible for the actions of his 300 employees. Kundra was tech smart but lack management maturity. Besides you can’t steer 98% of your contracts to Indian – American. That made of lacked oversight in the DC but that won’t happen in the Fed. Kundra will not be leading any Federal Technology office anytime soon. He brought extreme embarrassment to the Obama Administration in one week’s time.

  • Hightechman

    Vivek K suspended? And his buddies Acar and Bansal arrested for conspiracy to committ bribary and money laundering?? Then we find out Vivek K was arrested in his late teen early twenties for stealing? Sounds like the wrong crowd to be trusting “transparency” with and forging new pathways to merge data together. Tell Vivek to do the Daschle, Richardson, Killefer and how many others we do know about yet?

  • Arunabh Das

    Will you stop casting aspersions on the man because of his race? – Arunabh Das

  • George Bollhorst

    I understand the need for progress and the need to MOVE forward BUT I do NOT see the EXPRESS consideration for detail SECURITY??? This worries me the the Nth degree?????

  • Anonymous

    Service based companies like DELOITTE, IBM etc. waste lot of government money, Even though they are in business for long time in IT.