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Kundra: CIO of the Year?

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By Gautham Nagesh January 4, 2010

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Like any publication scrambling to fill those dark days at the end of the year, InformationWeek handed out its annual awards in December.And there was one name included on the list that may come as a surprise to Nextgov readers: Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra, who was named "Chief of the Year" by the magazine:

The job of opening the government's databases to the public -- complicated by the need to ensure security, privacy, confidentiality and data quality -- is huge, and Kundra will be the first to admit that most of the work lies ahead. In fact, that's true for everything on his plate: reducing the number of federal data centers, transitioning government agencies to cloud services, bolstering cybersecurity, improving IT project performance, and engaging the public over the Web.

With such a long, unfinished to-do list, you might say that we're premature in naming Kundra InformationWeek's Chief of the Year. But that's where we landed, and here's why: The federal CIO, now nine months into the job, has demonstrated a compelling vision for overhauling the government's lumbering IT operations (with 71,000 federal IT workers and more than 10,000 IT systems), and his progress is so far impressive.

Kundra, for example, has put the feds out in front of many private sector companies in the move to cloud computing. The Data.gov site has grown from just 47 data sets when introduced in May to more than 115,000 today. And the recently launched federal IT Dashboard--a display of IT project status that corporations would do well to mimic--has not only given the public visibility into the performance of Uncle Sam's big-ticket IT projects, but put agency CIOs on notice that execution matters.

Judging by that opening, it seems that InformationWeek tagged Kundra for what he has promised to do rather than what he has actually done. Of course that's pretty much how everyone has treated the Obama administration so far when it comes to IT, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. But still, by my count this year Kundra has been placed on administrative leave within a week of taking office, had his academic record and technical expertise publicly questioned and had embarrassing details of his "youthful indiscretions" picked up by the Associated Press. Not exactly a banner year.

But let's review: Kundra gets credit for significantly increasing the transparency of federal IT investments, despite the fact that he has done no such thing to date. (Not to mention the questionable success of his cost-cutting efforts as chief technology officer of the DC government). Right on cue, Data.gov and the IT Dashboard are mentioned, even though in the vast majority of the data posted on both sites has been available online for years. And of course the IT Dashboard data has been questioned by everyone from the Hill to the Government Accountability Office. But hey, at least it's better looking than USASpending!

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