Kundra would be a 'shot in the arm'

Vivek Kundra, the presumptive nominee for OMB's e-gov and IT administrator, helped innovate D.C. government

The expected appointment of Vivek Kundra to be administrator for e-government and information technology in the Office of Management and Budget would put an activist in a position that essentially functions as the government’s chief information officer.
Kundra, the District of Columbia's chief technology officer, has a history of taking an active role in propelling government technology advances, according to observers familiar with his work. The Obama administration had not announced his appointment by Friday afternoon, but various media reports citing sources close to the White House identified Kundra as the president's choice for the position, which reports to the deputy director of management (still vacant).
Agencies have grumbled that past occupants of the e-gov position have put more emphasis on compliance and reporting than on achieving results. David McClure, managing vice president at Gartner and a former director of IT management issues at the Government Accountability Office, said that if Kundra were appointed, it would be “a shot in the arm.”
Mark Forman, the first administrator in the office, focused on creating the e-government agenda, while his successor Karen Evans targeted the tactical implementation, McClure said.
Kundra’s appointment would “be a different chemistry, and sometimes that’s what you need,” McClure said.
Kundra has experienced the challenges and limitations of operating in state and local government, including navigating legislative bodies, inspectors general, and budget and policy matters, said Jonathan Breul, executive director at the IBM Center for the Business of Government and a former senior adviser at OMB.
“His experience and work with D.C. is probably as good a preparation as you can ask for,” Breul said. Kundra has helped build the technology infrastructure there and is familiar with how to make the city’s operations and performance transparent, visible and available to citizens.
For example, the district's government uses CapStat, a performance measurement system that provides dynamic statistical data with interactive maps about city operations. It is used as a tool to make agencies accountable for goals, such as lowering crime and cleaning streets. The D.C. government also makes related live-action video available on the Web site, such as the mayor questioning his policy officials about their performances.
Breul said that President Barack Obama might make the OMB e-government and IT administrator also serve as the chief technology officer. Obama had planned to make the chief performance officer and OMB’s deputy director for management a dual responsibility under Nancy Killefer until she withdrew her name because of tax issues.
“It’s a big advantage to have a dual hat because resources matter and all the big policy decisions are made in OMB,” Breul said. The CTO should at least have a strong link to OMB.
Kundra’s name had ranked high on published lists of individuals who might be named CTO. Aneesh Chopra, Virginia’s technology secretary, has also been mentioned in published reports as a likely pick for the CTO position. Chopra has advocated for health IT in Virginia and promoted a broadband speed evaluation tool to improve the state’s K-12 schools’ Internet access.

McClure said that with a vibrant technology activist as the e-government and IT administrator, a separate CTO could be more focused on large technology innovation discussions that are integrated into energy, science and other areas. For example, the CTO could reach out to industry and explore the use of technology for the management of the electric grid and not just federal agency implementation of IT. The position could fit in with the president’s National Science and Technology Council.
“The White House could put them all on hold until they get all three positions more firmly aimed and make sure the chemistry between the three works,” McClure said.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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