Vivek Kundra: Federal CIO in His Own Words


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

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

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

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 and the Imperative to Distribute Data

VK: One of the things we want to do is embark on launching
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: 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

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

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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