Vivek Kundra, President Obama’s newly appointed chief information officer, today rolled out a new federal technology agenda based on transparency, citizen engagement, cost containment and innovation. Kundra detailed his plan in an address at the FOSE government IT expo in Washington, D.C.

In a bizarre sidebar, as Kundra was speaking, FBI agents were searching his former workplace, the District of Columbia IT offices where Kundra served as chief technology officer before his federal appointment. The Associated Press confirmed that a District employee and a consultant had been arrested on charges of corruption but there was no indication that Kundra was related to the FBI investigation. (update: As of Wed., March 18, Kundra was cleared of any involvement and returned to his federal post. -ed)

Unconcerned or unaware of what was taking place across town, Kundra spoke for 20 minutes about his plans to revitalize and create a new image for the federal government’s technology efforts, which involve four million federal employees and 10,000 IT systems.

“Everywhere I look, people talk about how the private [IT] sector is ahead of the federal government and that the federal government can’t lead,” he said. “I reject that idea.” Kundra pointed to early work at DARPA that led to the development of the Internet and the National Institutes of Health’s involvement with the human genome project, where openness led to scientific advances in the public and private sector.

“Imagine the vast repository of rich data and information that the federal government has and what people could do if they had access to that information,” he said and added that transparency and citizen engagement could help create “a more perfect union.”

On the cost containment front, Kundra said a body in the CIO council had already been created to investigate the value of technologies including cloud computing (on-demand computing infrastructure) to the federal effort.

Kundra bemoaned the lengthy procurement processes that have led to the government to spend up to 10 times as much as consumers on IT equipment that was outdated by the time it was authorized, and said he’d also study the use of free applications on the Web. “What makes government processes so different that [they] can’t take advantage of the Darwinian pressures in the consumer space to fundamentally innovate and lower the cost of technology?” he asked.

To foster innovation, he called for the vendor community, American citizens and the federal workforce to work together in recognition that modern global economies are powered by technology.

Asked how he proposed to re-purpose the huge collection of rules and statutes that have driven federal IT guidance through its history, Kundra said IT workers needed to be assured they could step away from the old “safe routes” of bureaucracy.

“I’m a big advocate of looking at outcomes rather than processes and I think one of the problems is we focus too heavily on processes and not enough on outcomes especially when it comes to information technology.”

(Link to video feed of Kundra's remarks.)

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