New federal CIO lays out IT agenda

President Barack Obama's newly appointed chief information officer said in his first press briefing on Thursday that he plans to use technology to reduce operating costs, make agencies more accountable and engage the public by increasing access to government information.

"Going through [agency budgets] line item by line item, ensuring resources are spent effectively and that we hold agencies accountable will be a big part of my role," Kundra said. "I will be working closely with all federal CIOs to ... fundamentally revolutionize [the way] technology is used in public sector and reject the view that public sector has to ride behind the private sector" in IT innovation.

On Thursday Obama named Kundra federal CIO at the White House to direct the policies and strategic planning for the government's investments in information technology, and to establish an enterprise architecture that would allow federal computer systems across government to communicate and share information.

Kundra replaces Karen Evans, who served under President Bush as administrator for e-government and information technology at the Office of Management and Budget.

The new title reflects expanded priorities, he said.

"If you look at the innovations that have happened since 2002, it's not just e-government," Kundra said. "How do you look at backend systems and ensure that information technology will have a holistic view?"

He pointed to the Social Security Administration, which received funding to build a new data center. "We want to make sure that as they make that investment, it's done in a broader context," he said. "We want to ensure that as we make this investment, we're [asking], 'How does it play into the larger vision of federal IT?"

The federal CIO title more accurately reflects the requirements of the position, according to Alan Balutis, director of the business solutions group at Cisco Systems and a former CIO at the Commerce Department. "Many referred to [Evans] as the de facto CIO of the U.S. government," he said.

Bruce McConnell, who served as an adviser on national information security issues under presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, said the new title sends a clear message "that the government has an official chief information officer that will bring innovation, and the ability to use IT to actually get things done in government."

Among the efforts Kundra will lead as federal CIO is greater public access to information in what he described as a more context-rich environment. He noted, the online clearinghouse that supplies information on how stimulus funds are being spent, as well as plans to establish, which will provide the public with access to all federal information that is not private or restricted for national security reasons.

He compared's potential to two sites. The first, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Web site that provides access to global environmental data collected via satellites. The site, operated by the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service, contributed to the development of geospatial applications in the public and private sectors. He also cited the National Institutes of Health's Web site for the Human Genome Project, which provides online access to DNA research and spurred the development of hundreds of new drugs.

Cloud computing, which provides computer users with IT applications and resources via the Internet, could support information sharing and the collaborative Web 2.0 technologies needed for citizens to provide input on federal initiatives and programs, according to Kundra.

But agencies will need the resources and processes "to make sure we have the right resources so we can respond," he said.

Kundra pointed to the social networking site Facebook as an example of how information from citizens can be organized by the public according to issues and policies so it is more manageable. "It's going to require a massive transformation on the backend to ensure government is able to deal with this new reality," he said. "Those investments have not been historically made."