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Kundra: Stick to Data Efficiency and Action

July 18, 2011 – The next federal chief information officer should stay the course with data center consolidation, cloud deployments and daily action on cybersecurity, according to President Obama’s outgoing IT leader, Vivek Kundra. 

“Be aware of entropy and make sure you’re really, really focused on execution, not just on policy. It’s very, very sexy to attend countless cybersecurity meetings where nothing is actually happening. You need to roll up your sleeves and get some work done,” Kundra said. 

Kundra gave his reflections on the position last Friday before the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Kundra announced last month that he would step down as federal CIO – a position established by President Obama and only occupied by Kundra – later this summer for a technology advisory and research fellowship at Harvard.

A big challenge in doling out an efficient and effective future for federal IT deployments is overcoming the “IT cartel” of systems and preference within government departments, Kundra said. 

“You have very few companies, and these companies, frankly, a lot of them benefit because they understand the procurement process better than anyone else, not because they are providing superior technology. How do we get some of the most innovative companies, the most innovative people to actually come in and compete for federal contracts?” he said, later adding, “We want to add Darwinian pressure so that the federal government can actually benefit.”

From his first days on the job as part of Obama’s transition team and later as federal CIO, Kundra said the tasks were daunting, comparing the president’s campaign with an iPhone and the White House’s capabilities with a rotary dialing unit. 

“I felt like we went back in time a decade,” he said of his initial impression of federal capabilities and restrictions.

Kundra compiled an 18-month, 25-point plan released last December, which cut federal data and IT spending by an estimated $3 billion by shuttering and consolidating data centers, shifting email and other operations to the cloud, and open transactional data initiatives. Other aspects of his tenure outlined before the council were the teams he created to address cybersecurity threats more quickly and instead of simple paperwork filings and establishing a platform for connections with the private sector in application creation “challenge” funding and access to government data sets. 

“It’s interesting to see this ecosystem of innovators and companies that are actually building businesses on top of this platform,” Kundra said. 

In response to a question on a lack of standardization in government systems from Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google and a council member, Kundra pointed out that federal department architecture is funded per-department by Congress. 

Kundra was one of a handful of speakers before the council, including David Kappos, undersecretary of commerce for intellectual property in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and Chad Holliday, chairman of the National Academies Study on Future of Research Universities. To view a Webcast of Kundra and all of the speakers, click here.

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