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Observers say D.C. CTO would bring innovative approach to e-gov

Federal information technology specialists think District of Columbia chief technology officer Vivek Kundra would be a strong successor to Karen Evans in the top IT job at the Office of Management and Budget, but they caution that change comes much harder at the federal level.

"I think it's great; Vivek is both creative and practical," said Bruce McConnell, an independent consultant and former chief of information technology and policy at OMB. "His track record as D.C. CTO is amazing in terms of opening up government and making systems work. I think he's taking on a bigger challenge this time, but he's got the tools and experience to be very successful."

Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer for the consulting firm FedSources, agrees. "There are big challenges for anybody taking on that position, but [Kundra] is somebody who seems to have a fresh, dynamic way of approaching IT management . . . and is also very willing to be decisive," he said.

Despite having "fairly rigorous" processes in place for managing IT investments, the office of e-government has "probably never had enough decisiveness built into it," Bjorklund said. "There are painful decisions that have to be made," he added, referring to programs that should be either eliminated or consolidated across agency lines.

As the District's CTO, Kundra acquired a reputation for innovation and new approaches to managing IT projects. His willingness to engage citizens by opening up government databases to the public and sponsoring the Apps for Democracy contest fits with President Obama's goal of using the Internet to increase transparency and accountability in the federal government. The innovation contest challenged technologists to create Web applications that would make it easier for citizens to get information from city agencies. The winners were awarded cash prizes.

A former federal official, who asked to remain anonymous, cautioned that Kundra is likely to find it much harder to launch similar programs on the federal level.

"It's wonderful to come into an administration with these wonderful ideas, but he's been operating at an agency with only a couple of hundred million dollars in IT spending," said the official. "[The federal government] is a heck of a big enterprise, and there's a lot of inertia."

McConnell said security and privacy would make it difficult to replicate some of Kundra's efforts at the city level.

"Scaling will be an issue, procurement will be an issue, security and privacy will be issues . . . he is taking on a much bigger and qualitatively different level of challenge. But, again, I think he has the wherewithal to make a lot of progress," he said.

"The bottom line has to be improved mission performance, everything he does needs to be looked at within that metric," McConnell added.

Randolph Hite, director of IT architecture and systems at the Government Accountability Office, said the position of e-gov chief requires someone who can balance technical skills with the management cloud necessary to encourage collaboration.

"They've really got to be the full package of technical, managerial and interpersonal skills," said Hite. "OMB has never been an organization that has the resources it needs to be an active oversight entity. What they really need to do is make sure agencies are doing what they need to make sure technology is being leveraged to meet mission needs."

Hite said a priority for Kundra should be to look horizontally across the government IT infrastructure to identify areas of duplication that can be consolidated so agencies can share services.

"It's taking a mission-focused approach to how the government operates, as opposed to an organization-focused one," he said.

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