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FOSE: Obama CIO Lays Out His Tech Agenda

Vivek Kundra said government IT focuses too much on processes and not enough on outcomes.

"People talk about how the private sector is ahead of the federal government and the federal government can't lead," Kundra said. "But just look at some examples like DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the branch of the Department of Defense that develops new technology for military use], the human genome project and things like space exploration, medicine and communications. We need to emphasize a different self-image of the federal government. We accept and recognize it's not going to be easy. But it's not impossible."

Kundra, who was named federal CIO on March 5 after a highly regarded stint as the CIO of Washington, D.C., spoke for about 30 minutes and suggested that with any historical revolution -- he considered information a third revolution following the agricultural and industrial revolutions -- comes two fundamental principles: the liquidity in the market when it comes to the flow of information and the velocity at which that information travels.

He identified four pillars that he said will define his ambitions as federal CIO. The first pillar, Kundra said, is making reality what President Obama has championed as transparency and open government.

"Recovery.gov is a model of what you can expect from the administration: engaging citizens and making sure we put it out there in the public domain," Kundra said, referring to the federal Web site that lists information and opportunities about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or federal stimulus. "People can look at where the money is going, and how it will be spent."

Another of Kundra's transparency plans, the idea of a data.gov platform, is driven by the idea of government data being placed in the public domain, he said. "The default assumption is that information should be allowed to the people. When data has been democratized in the past, you've had an explosion of innovation."

The second pillar, Kundra stated, is dialog -- furthering that transparency by allowing people to weigh in on government operations on a day-to-day basis and provide feedback on everything from rule-making to health and human services.

Third, Kundra said, he intends to lower the cost of government operations -- a key for technology vendors and VARs who structure their businesses around public-sector contracts.

"In your personal life as a consumer, you can buy technology for one-tenth the cost of what the federal government pays," Kundra said. "Why is that? What makes the government so special it can't embrace consumer technologies? What makes the government so special that there's no way the government can take advantage of the Darwinian pressures in the consumer space -- the ones that so fundamentally innovate and lower the cost of technologies?"

Cloud computing is a key driver, Kundra said, and so is consumer technology, especially the free services available to consumers. Kundra also touched on government procurement time lines -- a point of much frustration for government VARs and other technology providers.

"If it takes two or three years to go through a procurement, that's a time in which processor speeds and technology innovate much faster, and we've bought something that, by the way, suddenly makes no sense," Kundra said.

The fourth pillar, Kundra said, is using technology more effectively in government. "Technology for technology's sake" is useless, he said, and the federal government needs to do a better job of managing its more than 4 million employees and more than 10,000 IT systems.

Kundra promised the FOSE audience he wouldn't "get stuck in a bureaucratic quicksand" and urged technology vendors to be the first to call out government when problems with technology adoption arise. He said he was planning once-a-week roundtables with technology decision-makers (likely on Saturdays or Sundays) to keep the discussions going, and urged FOSE attendees to e-mail him as often as possible with ideas.

"We're going to look at how do we rationalize investments," Kundra said. "We focus too heavily on processes and not on outcomes."

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