Obama Administration Appoints Top CIO

By  |  Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 5:32 pm

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When President Obama took office, his staffers entered a White House that was years behind the technology curve –old, outdated equipment stymied staffers that were accustomed to the bleeding edge.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?


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3 Comments For This Post

  1. mathiastck Says:

    The dreaming in code link:

    is a 404.

  2. David Worthington Says:

    Thank you Max.

  3. Jim Pivonka Says:

    The reference to IRS’ Tax Modernization System brought me up short. I was deeply involved in killing an earlier version, which vaguely I recall being called the Tax System Modernization Plan, in the mid 1980’s. We spent a bundle on that, even before it really got going. It was projected as having a 30+ lifecycle, and was so undefined that a major part of the project was to secure contractor assistance in redesingning IRS tax administration programs and processes, befor beginning the system design.

    My hard work in making sure that monster dies was rewarded with early retirement. I made the mistake of regarding success as a career accomplishment and discussing my methods and strategies openly when applying for more senior positions within IRS. Baaaadddd move. Oh well, trade retirement income for a longer retirement.. not too bad an exchange. Now I’ll have time to order and read Scott Rosenberg’s book.

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