White House wants 'disruptive' shift in IT strategy, Kundra says

Federal CIO chides industry members "invested in the status quo"

The White House is pushing for dramatic change in federal information technology strategy away from infrastructure ownership and toward provisioning of services, which will require new approaches and collaborations, Federal CIO Vivek Kundra said at a federal CIO panel discussion today.

“There is a huge shift in federal IT,” Kundra said at the AFCEA Bethesda panel event. “We want to make sure the shift is disruptive.”

The trend encompasses not only moving e-mail systems to the cloud and consolidating data centers but also eventually will affect large enterprise systems and information security by 2012, Kundra said.

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The change may be difficult because at the current time, while a few industry members are on board and driving the changes, many other industry members “are invested in the status quo,” Kundra told the audience, which consisted primarily of federal contracting industry members.

“We want the federal government to move away from asset ownership and shift to service provisioning,” Kundra said.

The General Services Administration and the Agriculture Department moved their e-mail systems to the cloud, which saved $6 million and $15 million, respectively, he said.

The new philosophy is being applied to the start-up of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, Kundra said. “How do you build up an agency with zero asset ownership?” he asked.

Richard Spires, CIO of the Homeland Security Department, said DHS is looking for consolidation and cloud opportunities as it deals with ongoing budget cuts. “We are starting small but aggressively to move away from the traditional model,” he said.

So far, the department has provisioned a private cloud for 100,000 e-mail addresses, including headquarters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, he said.

Data centers also are being consolidated, and another possible area of consolidation in the future are the 16 common operating pictures that are in operation throughout the department. “We probably do not need 16. Ideally, you would not need more than one,” Spires said.

Spires noted that consolidation efforts are requiring a new degree of cooperation across agencies, which is not always easy to achieve because of limitations on his authorities. Roger Baker, CIO of the Veterans Affairs Department, suggested that having a CIO with centralized authority for the IT budget at the VA has helped implement consolidation and efficiency measures.

For example, with cybersecurity, Baker said that before joining the VA, he worked at another federal agency for which authority for system security was decentralized. More than 100 individuals at the agency were generating regular cybersecurity paperwork assuring him that their systems were secure. Nonetheless, as CIO at the other agency, he lacked confidence that the systems were truly safe, he said.

To improve the situation at the VA, Baker said he authorized purchase of an application that gives him visibility to all 315,000 computers and devices on the VA's network, allowing him to track the security status in a continuous fashion.

Having central CIO authority also has helped him implement program management changes and a more agile development, he said.

“If you consolidate under a CIO, you have can have incremental development, save money, deliver faster and the customers are happier. If you do it, it will work,” Baker said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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