CIO Briefing

First-ever federal CIO to leave post in August

This story has been updated

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, the first person to hold that post, will leave later this summer to take a fellowship at Harvard University, the White House said Thursday.

Kundra will be a joint fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew said in a statement.

The government is "planning for a smooth transition, continuing these remarkable gains in changing the way the federal government manages IT," Lew said. "Vivek's impact on cutting waste and making government work better for the American people will continue to be felt well beyond his departure from federal service."

Frank Muehleman, vice president and general manager of Dell's Public Business, North America, said "Vivek Kundra set the bar high in terms of his ability to map out a bold vision for federal IT reform and successfully execute on it." He noted that Kundra was a strong advocate of using technology to find cost savings and efficiencies across government.

"We look forward to the president appointing another forward-thinking [chief information officer]," Muehleman said.

Kundra, who was formerly CIO for the District of Columbia, had been in office since the beginning of the Obama administration.

His signature initiative was his 25-Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology, which has, among other things, dramatically overhauled the timelines for government IT projects.

The White House has credited Kundra with saving $3 billion by canceling or fundamentally downsizing numerous IT projects that were years past their deadlines and millions of dollars over budget.

The 25-point plan also included shutting down or consolidating 800 of the government's roughly 2,100 data centers, saving an estimated $3 billion, and shifting large portions of its IT operations to cloud computing, saving another $5 billion.

Kundra spent most of his first two years in office encouraging agencies to become more transparent about their operations, specifically by releasing information online in various formats. The idea was that web developers, analytics companies and the average citizen could "mash up" government statistics on, for example, hospital comparison information, with outside data sources to build web "apps" and conduct research. According to open government advocates, one of his legacies in the area of federal accountability is a central catalog of such data sets called Data.gov.

Industry insiders said they expected the administration's IT plans would continue after Kundra's departure. "Whenever there's a change in leadership, there's always a change in nuances, but the agenda of innovation that Vivek was trying to drive in terms of Cloud First and FedRAMP, I think those will continue," said Dan Reed, vice president for technology strategy and policy at Microsoft.

Steven Kousen, vice president at Unisys, a major supplier of federal IT, called Kundra's departure "a bit of a blow." Kousen said he hoped Kundra's successor would be as much of an "evangelist" for the cost savings and efficiencies of IT as Kundra had been.

Darrell West, director of the Brookings Institution's Center for Technology Innovation, said the 25-point plan would most likely "go forward just because there's a lot of momentum and there's a lot of departmental buy-in." In addition, "the federal government needs to push these ideas so that they can gain the same efficiencies that the private sector has developed. I don't think it will be slowed down because whoever comes in is going to share the idea that government needs to remain serious about technological innovation," West said.

Speaking at a technology industry event Wednesday night, Kundra described when he was first asked to serve on President Obama's transition team.

"The president had one message," Kundra said, "[Change] the way Washington works. I could see that he truly believed in the transformative power of technology."

Stan Soloway, president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council, said, "Vivek did an outstanding job of defining the vision of where government can and should be headed with regard to technology . . . From his broad vision of what the future can be to his specific initiatives around program performance and an enhanced IT acquisition process, his contributions and impacts were many and significant."

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services and International Security, praised Kundra as an unusually effective leader. "Because of Vivek's efforts, over $3 billion in federal information technology-related cost savings have been realized," Carper said.

Kundra's decision to leave government for academia instead of the private sector may reflect his long-standing interest in the role of technology in governance and social welfare. Before joining the White House, he had been co-writing a book about the unlimited ways to repurpose government information using social media, with information-sharing consultant W. David Stephenson.

Stephenson continued with the project after Kundra recused himself for conflict-of-interest reasons, and dedicated the just-released book, Data Dynamite: How Liberating Information Will Transform Our World, (Spring 2011), to his friend.

"When he had to drop out of the book, he was really disappointed," Stevenson said, adding, "[Kundra] said that writing a book had been one of his career objectives."

Kundra may have more time for such pursuits come August.

Aliya Sternstein and Katherine McIntire Peters contributed to this report.

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