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Outgoing federal CIO speculates on his legacy

If information technology and entrepreneurship were sufficiently leveraged then within a decade development competitions could be as big a part of federal spending as standard procurement processes are now, Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said Thursday.

"We spend about half-a-trillion dollars on contracts and grants [annually]," Kundra said. "Imagine if we were doing that with challenges and prizes . . . A lot of people, the way they compete is because they know the procurement process, it's not because they have better technology. [Challenges] put you on an equal footing whether you're the biggest IT company or the smallest startup. And the American people benefit."

Kundra, who will be leaving his post in August, was speaking with reporters after a House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology hearing on financial management, mainly about his legacy and his achievements during roughly two and a half years as the first federal CIO.

He cited plans to consolidate roughly one-third of federal data centers and to move one-fourth of the government's IT infrastructure to cheaper and more nimble cloud computing as two of his proudest achievements in office.

"That was one of the first meetings I had with the [agency] CIOs," Kundra said. "I said, 'cloud first' and now we've seen this birth of a cloud industry . . . Amazon, Salesforce, Google, all of these new entrants that never competed for federal business before are now driving it and they've built entire teams that are focusing on government. And we want that. We want Darwinian competition that benefits the taxpayer."

Kundra told the panel's ranking member, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., during the hearing that he supported the data center components of Connolly's Federal Cost Reduction Act, which not only codifies Kundra's plan to eliminate or consolidate 800 of the government's 2,100 federal data centers by 2015, but also would require the government to shutter about 900 more data centers by 2021.

Kundra said he envisions reducing the government's total data center infrastructure to "three digital Fort Knoxes" at some point in the future.

Connolly's bill is awaiting a hearing from a House Armed Services subcommittee. The Defense Department owns about 750 of the government's 2,100 existing data centers.

Kundra said he also takes significant pride in efficiencies his IT Dashboard brought to federal IT management. He has credited the IT Dashboard and related initiatives with saving roughly $3 billion in IT costs.

The outgoing CIO told reporters he'll be looking at many of the same large-scale IT issues he's dealing with now in his next post as a fellow at Harvard University.

Kundra declined to speculate on who will replace him as the nation's second federal CIO.

"I'll leave that to the president," he said.

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