New federal CIO lays out ambitious technology agenda

Vivek Kundra says government must take advantage of consumer technologies.

Newly appointed federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra on Thursday laid out an ambitious agenda for technology in the Obama administration that focuses on embracing innovation, lowering costs and allowing citizens greater access and engagement.

Speaking before a packed house at the FOSE conference in Washington, Kundra told attendees the government must change the way it views and purchases information technology.

"From a technology perspective, we have to embrace a different self-image of the federal government," Kundra said. "Everywhere I look, people talk about how the private sector is ahead of the federal government and the federal government can't lead. I reject that idea. The federal government can and has led."

Pointing to examples such as the development of the Internet and the Human Genome Project, Kundra said government is capable of taking the lead on technological innovation. He said he views technology as crucial to helping agencies accomplish their missions and a strategic asset to help move the country forward.

"I don't view technology as just a commodity," Kundra said.

Kundra spoke at length about the need to improve federal IT planning and procurement. He suggested that more frequent reporting on IT purchases would result in fewer projects failing or exceeding their cost and schedule baselines. He also said President Obama's appointment of a federal CIO and pledge to name a chief technology officer were signs of his commitment to technology.

In addition, Kundra addressed the administration's transparency initiative, already evident in projects like the Web site. "Transparency enables people to participate in the public civic process, to see how their money is being spent and hold government officials accountable," he said.

Kundra also plans to develop another site,, to aggregate federal information in a single location. That is similar to an effort he launched as chief technology officer for the District of Columbia.

"We're going to be publishing government data beginning with the default assumption that information belongs to the people," he said.

Kundra advocated increased federal use of consumer technologies, arguing that too often the government has closed itself off to the possibility of embracing commonly used tools:

"We're asking a simple question: if a consumer can buy technology for one tenth the cost of government, what makes government so special that it can't embrace consumer technology?" said.

He emphasized that the role of technology is to help agencies accomplish their missions, so all federal investments would be made with an eye toward improving service to citizens.

"We want to look at innovation, not just technology," Kundra said. "Technology for technology's sake is useless. It needs to fulfill the mission."