Kundra: Government can lead the technology revolution

Vivek Kundra, the new federal chief information officer, played the role of both cheerleader and policy maker in one of his first public addresses since taking the position last week.

Speaking at the FOSE trade show, Kundra opened by rejecting the notion that the government cannot lead a technology revolution.

“The government can and has led,” he said, citing examples such as the creation of the Internet and the Human Genome Project. “We have to embrace a new self-image. … We can be thought leaders, especially in these trying economic times.”

At the end of his speech, he returned to that theme when he said that helping federal employees “find the path to innovation” was one of the four pillars that will drive his technology agenda.

“Some of the smartest people I know are federal employees,” he said.

But too many of them have been told to not take risks and to not act on their ideas. They need to be “liberated,” he said.

In addition to building that “path to innovation,” Kundra said his agenda will be built around making government more transparent, finding ways to engage the public, and lowering the cost of government operations.

“Technology enables the processes of government but we have to make sure that the processes are focused on the citizens,” he said.

Kundra was a last minute addition to the FOSE line up this year with his appointment coming March 5, just days before the annual trade show began. His morning keynote was firmed on Monday.

He spoke before a jammed ballroom in the Washington Convention Center that saw nearly every seat taken and people standing along the walls, two and three deep in some places.

Recovery.gov is a leading indicator of what the administration means when it talks about transparency, he said.

In the works is Data.gov, which will be a platform for making government data easily available. “The default will be that government data belongs to the people,” he said.

Putting that information in the public domain can lead to an “explosion of innovation.” He cited the examples of cell phone services that rely on satellite technologies such as the global positioning system.

“The same thing happened with the Human Genome Project,” he said. That information has helped drive medical and pharmaceutical research.

“Imagine the rich repositories of data that the government has,” he said.

To make the government easier for citizens to become engaged with, Kundra said he will be rolling out efforts at the agency level to help citizens interact with them on a day-to-day basis.

To drive down the cost of government, Kundra said he will advocate for the use of more commercial and consumer products. The government is too often paying for technologies to be created that are available on the open market for much less, he said.

“What makes the government so special that we can’t take advantage of the Darwinian pressures to innovate,” he said.

In particular he is interested in looking at cloud computing. “Instead of being laggards, we want to lead,” Kundra said. “We’ve created a CIO Council body to explore it.”

He also didn’t leave government contractors out of the loop. He called on them to help identify projects that are headed for problems, if not out right failure, before they cost the government too much money.

He also pledges to look at the contracting process with an eye toward making it faster and more efficient.

“If it takes two or three years to go through a procurement — and we all know Moore’s Law — then we’ve bought an obsolete technology,” he said.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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