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Down To Business: Mr. Kundra, Welcome To The Fishbowl

An FBI raid on the federal CIO's former offices may be the least of his problems.

President Obama has made the first of his two big IT appointments, naming Vivek Kundra federal CIO. The selection of Kundra, former CTO of the District of Columbia, was Washington's worst-kept secret, but still under wraps is who will take on the more macro-oriented job of fed CTO--and how those two tech chiefs (please don't call them "czars") will work together.

As fed CIO, operating under the White House Office of Management and Budget, Kundra will focus on how government agencies buy, use, manage, and coordinate information technology. That's a monumental undertaking; each of those agencies has its own CIO and technology slant. But at least the administration has set aside matters of national IT policy and competitiveness (trade, innovation, labor) for the federal CTO. The worry was that Obama would task one tech chief with so many priorities that he wouldn't know where to start, much as the president's trying to revive the economy, transform health care, fix education, and cool the environment in his first 100 days.

Nonetheless, the 34-year-old Kundra has his hands full. So far, he's talked a lot about how his team is scrutinizing spending and projects "line by line," but he's still loath to touch the federal government's $71 billion IT budget. As my colleague Nick Hoover notes from his sit-down interview with the fed CIO last week, Kundra's relationships with the various agency CIOs--who report to agency heads as well as Kundra--will be critical. One tech vendor CEO I spoke with who's close to the Washington scene doesn't think Kundra has a prayer of hacking through the bureaucracy and influencing how those CIOs spend their budgets. Federal agencies have a hard enough time sharing basic information, notes a report from the Markle Foundation.

At least Kundra knows his way around Washington. Before his two-year stint as the capital city's CTO, he was assistant secretary of commerce and technology for nearby Virginia, and earlier he served as director of infrastructure technology for the Washington suburb of Arlington, Va.

On the other hand, Kundra isn't so rooted in the government IT bureaucracy that he won't be able to bring fresh ideas to the fed CIO post. As D.C. CTO, he made his name as an early adopter of Google's Web apps and as a proponent of open source, social networking, and cloud computing. Kundra's portfolio management approach to IT involved hiring analysts to track projects, killing the ones going nowhere and freeing up capital for those with the most upside. There will be ample opportunity to exercise that disciplined approach across government agencies--if other CIOs will pay heed.

All in all, Kundra's resumé is fairly short. In D.C., he ran a 600-person staff and oversaw 86 agencies, but it wasn't a world-class IT organization. Earlier in his career, as VP of marketing for Evincible Software, which specialized in identity management, and as CEO of Creostar, where he advised clients on IT governance and strategy, he did gain experience with how technology is developed and sold, but those were small, niche companies.

Now Kundra oversees the world's biggest IT budget and bureaucracy, a job he lobbied for. A week after he started, the FBI raided his former D.C. CTO office as part of an employee corruption probe, though Kundra wasn't a target of the investigation.

Welcome to the fishbowl, Mr. CIO.

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief

To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.

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