Can Vivek Kundra move the federal government into a new technological era, one marked by transparency, dynamic citizen engagement and innovative service models? Yes, he can. That, anyway, was the word on the Web last week.
A point of reference: On the day President Barack Obama took his oath of office, a page on Kundra appeared on Wikipedia. Last week, when Obama appointed Kundra as the first governmentwide chief information officer, that page was updated shortly after 7 a.m. and repeatedly throughout that day and the next.
Karen Evans, who held the same slot, albeit with a different title, has no such biographical entry, despite serving as the government's point person on technology for the past five years.
Bloggers and journalists latched onto Kundra's track record as chief technology officer for the District of Columbia. As explained in a Federal Computer Week article this week (Story, Page 10), Kundra pushed D.C. to make government data more readily accessible to its residents. The district even ran a contest, called Apps for Democracy, in which residents proposed ideas for using those feeds.
Brian Knowlton, writing for the "Caucus" blog at the New York Times, pointed out that as the district's CTO, Kundra also showed a talent for bringing about changes in short order. "In just 19 months with the district, Mr. Kundra has moved to post city contracts on YouTube and to make Twitter use common in his office and others," Knowlton writes. "He hopes to allow drivers to pay parking tickets or renew their driver’s licenses on Facebook."
Can he do the same in the federal government? Gartner blogger Andrea DiMaio, who worked with Kundra on a panel at a Gartner symposium last year, is hopeful. "He is a very smart person who combines counterintuitive visions with the ability to execute and maintain support from his political and business leaders," she writes.
She said she believes his history bodes well for Data.gov, a new system designed to serve as a single point of access to all public information from the federal government. Knowing Kundra, DiMaio said "it is most likely that this will not just be a window to federal data for transparency purposes but a component of a broader strategy to allow citizens and businesses to leverage and create value from public data."
ComputerWorld's Patrick Thibodeau picked up on Kundra's interest in trying new service models. "While he outlined a tough approach with contractors, Kundra also wants to move the government away from its dependence on big IT contracts," Thibodeau writes. "He pointed to cloud-based services used by the private sector to quickly create and provision development platforms, as well as for information sharing, such as for photos and videos."
Missing from all the chatter was any mention of the CTO job. Candidate Obama created quite a stir last year when he announced he would appoint a CTO, leading to a lot of speculation about who would nab it. Kundra frequently was named as a top contender, along with Julius Genachowski, Obama's campaign technology adviser.
But everything changed in mid-January when Genachowski turned down the CTO job, saying it had no meaningful authority (See Chief Techie: All bark no bite?). The post remains unfilled. By some accounts, it is also undesirable, first because of Genachowski's slight and now with the emergence of Kundra as the real IT power player in the White House.