Kundra seeks IT cooperation with state and local governments

The federal CIO says government online customer service should also mirror the private sector.

The Obama administration's push to improve customer service on its websites and other online services may include partnering with state and local governments to share software that serves similar functions, federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said on Thursday.

"We've talked a lot about how we literally get rid of the artificial constructs when it comes to technology around federal, state and local," Kundra said, describing a recent meeting with state CIOs. "When you want to start a business, you've got to file your paperwork with the local government and then the state and then the federal."

Kundra spoke at a Government IT Leadership Forum hosted by InformationWeek.

President Obama issued an executive order on April 27 tasking federal agencies with streamlining the government's more than 20,000 websites and with creating a plan to vastly improve customer service on the remaining sites.

Also during Thursday's forum, New York City IT and Telecommunications Commissioner Carole Post said her city is working with Boston and other cities to share the basic structure of websites and smartphone applications that increase the city's communication with citizens about potholes, weather emergencies and other civic issues.

Post showed off a host of smartphone applications the city has developed or sponsored, including a popular app that warns users about New York City restaurants with low ratings from the Health Department.

Several popular websites link to the app, including Foursquare.com, which gives users prizes and other incentives for frequenting local restaurants, bars and other attractions.

Kundra said the government's customer service effort will include a significant push on social networks and mobile devices, but he didn't say whether the federal government will cooperate with states and cities on similar apps.

Federal Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients has said that ideally, the interactive parts of federal websites should mirror the private sector's Web-based customer service, which customers typically rate higher than they do phone-in customer service lines.

"We're asking a simple question," Kundra said on Thursday. "The experience many of us have when making reservations on [the website] OpenTable or accessing Facebook or booking a hotel or a flight" [prompts the question], "what are the bets those companies made and how can the government shift its mind-set? The reason we're shutting down data centers isn't just about cost savings; it's also about ... spending a lot more resources on the higher stack, moving away from the physical layer to the presentation layer."