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12/10/2009
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Chopra, Kundra Urge Efficiency Role For Government IT

The Federal CIO and CTO tell Congress that transparency, efficiency efforts are beginning to pay dividends, but federal IT still needs to be more involved in business decisions.

Federal government IT departments need to play a stronger role in improving the efficiency of their agencies and engagement with the American people, federal CIO Vivek Kundra and CTO Aneesh Chopra said Thursday in testimony before the Senate Budget Committee's Task Force on Government Performance.

"The administration is committed to leveraging the power of technology to drive results," Kundra said in a hearing about data-driven performance in government. "The challenge for far too long has been that the CIOs were not directly communicating with their business leaders and owners. Sometimes, the CIO wasn't even in the conversation."

Kundra pointed to the recently launched IT Dashboard as one way to encourage these changes, contrasting it with the old Management Watch List, which Kundra called "little more than a static PDF on a Web site" that had little effect on performance. He noted that, sparked by the IT Dashboard and the Department of Veterans Affairs' massive IT portfolio review this year, the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Housing and Urban Development are also conducting their own comprehensive reviews, using the IT Dashboard to help them identify problem projects.

He said that the administration planned to roll out additional dashboards across other functional areas, as it plans to do for government openness as it ramps up its Open Government Directive, in order to push evidence-based decisions on CIOs and other government leaders.

Chopra said that Kundra and he are currently using a recent overhaul of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to include comparative data on document approval times at different immigration offices as an example of how agencies can use data to improve their performance and engagement with constituents at the same time, in this case by encouraging competition and by providing immigrants with useful data.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., expressed concern about both data accuracy and the possibility of information overload. "We can't have imaginary Congressional districts appearing in the next round of stimulus reporting," he said, noting data quality problems in stimulus-tracking Web site Recovery.gov.

Kundra mentioned that federal agencies will soon be required to name a data quality lead in order to comply with the Open Government Directive. He also said that the government was looking to "rationalize" many of the federal government's 100,000 Web sites. Chopra said that citizens shouldn't have to know to come to government Web sites in the first place, and thus it is vital for the government to release standardized data in order to encourage the development of an ecosystem of sites making use of that data.

Kundra also mentioned how transparency and better use of data could improve IT procurement, both by aggregating purchases through a portal like Apps.gov or the General Services Administration's Smart Buy program and by integrating government contracting data from disparate databases into USASpending.gov.

After the testimony by Kundra and Chopra, VA CIO Roger noted that despite VA gains in IT project management under Baker's lauded Project Management Accountability System, contractual challenges remain over how to stop 12 major projects that the VA has found to be vastly underperforming.

Baker additionally noted that his team had ranked more than 1,000 IT spending items from the most to least important, and has begun making tough decisions to cut projects that don't make the "cut line on the priority list," an effort he implied could keep spending in check and help the VA refocus on its most important priorities, but which he also said he expected to "generate a lot of discussion.

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