Kundra's cell phone plan panned

Judging from the overwhelmingly negative feedback, it’s hard not to wonder how much advance thought federal CIO Vivek Kundra gave to his idea of providing $2,000 subsidies to federal employees to buy smart phones or other mobile devices that they could use for double duty at work and home.

Kundra floated the idea at an event sponsored by AFCEA International's Bethesda, Md., chapter in late February. Carrying only one device would be more convenient, he said, and it could help federal workers stay on top of new productivity-enhancing technologies because they could buy devices that suit their needs faster if they don't have to depend on agencies to acquire the gear for them.

Kundra has worked with technology for a decade, most recently as CIO for the District of Columbia, but he apparently did not anticipate the can of worms his proposal would open. If he did, he hasn’t said as much.

Rather than cheering a personal status-symbol boost courtesy of Uncle Sam, readers who responded to Federal Computer Week stories about Kundra’s proposal cited a long and varied list of concerns. They included nuts-and-bolts issues involved with buying, maintaining and ultimate ownership of the devices, and deeper policy implications related to security of government data, records retention, employee privacy and encroaching work demands.

Several readers made the point that even though many government workers routinely tend to personal affairs during work hours using office phones and computers, they understand that their activities are subject to monitoring and control. How many would be willing to submit to potentially similar oversight of their business outside the office if they carried Kundra’s dual-use devices?

As one reader wrote: “If the government paid for your phone, they would be able to access your phone calls, text messages, etc., as outlined in all federal IT user agreements.”

Kundra came into the top federal tech job with a reputation as an agent for change with an unabashed enthusiasm for the transformational power of new technology. So far, he is living up to that image with an ambitious tech reform agenda that some fear borders on reckless. It has become too much for at least one reader.

“Is Kundra's specialty IT or marketing?" the anonymous reader asked. "Maybe worse — an overzealous IT marketing guy with a lot of authority. He seems way too indifferent about putting our personal data at risk for the sake of the latest shiny new technology and bent on making the government an early adopter of some potentially dangerous practices. Change can be very good — or very bad. A little restraint seems better suited here instead of sweeping 18-month mandates to make drastic changes in the way some reasonably important data is managed and protected.”

About the Author

John Zyskowski is a senior editor of Federal Computer Week. Follow him on Twitter: @ZyskowskiWriter.

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