The White House press office announced today that Vivek Kundra, the current chief technology officer of Washington DC, will be assuming the position of Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the White House.
U.S. President Barack Obama rode into office backed by an unprecedentedly sophisticated grassroots campaign that leveraged Web 2.0 technologies to rally and organize his supporters. Kundra’s appointment fulfills a campaign promise to appoint a so-called technology czar to make the federal government operate more effectively.
The appointment of a top CIO is another first: the position did not exist in any previous administrations. Kundra will also have final say on government technology purchases , and will have the authority to overrule his peers at subordinate agencies.
He will likewise have responsibilities for making government information systems more interoperable to share information, while preserving (and in many cases establishing) security and privacy standards. The Washington Post has reported that Mundra will have a CTO to assist his efforts.
The impact all of this has on government contractors–as well as commercial software vendors–could be huge. Imagine if Kundra decides that the federal government should embrace open source software, for instance.
All I can say is “wow.” Government agencies have enjoyed incredible autonomy; getting CIOs to fall in line is an immense task and will require skillful political maneuvering. But it is an undertaking that may be long overdue.
Salon.com founder Scott Rosenberg’s book Dreaming in Code (a great read, btw) details how the Internal Revenue Service’s tax system modernization cost taxpayers billions of dollars, and ultimately failed.
The notion that someone could pull the plug on such bloated efforts offers taxpayers a measure of accountability, and in my opinion, that’s a very positive happening.
When President Obama took office, his staffers entered a White House that was years behind the technology curve –old, outdated equipment stymied staffers that were accustomed to the bleeding edge. Reports about security breaches persist to this day.
Kundra’s job will be a great experiment in streamlining bureaucracy, and is perhaps the most difficult a CIO has ever taken. Is a Federal CIO is a good idea, or will the position be relegated to failure?