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8/15/2011
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Vivek Kundra Reflects On White House Years

Obama's recently departed CIO said he's proud of the work he accomplished to reform federal IT, and encouraged others to continue what he started.

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Proud of the work he did to bring the federal government out of the "Dark Ages" of technology, former U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra said people will only reap the benefits of it if he and other federal IT reform advocates continue what was started. Kundra, who this month began a fellowship at Harvard University, recounted his time at the Obama administration White House in a 12-page "Reflections on Public Service" published on the Harvard Kennedy School's website.

The former CIO--who was replaced earlier this month by former Microsoft executive Steven VanRoekel--recalled his first day on the job when he was handed "a stack of documents with $27 billion worth of technology projects that were years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget."

Kundra said he knew he had his work cut out for him because while "my neighbor's ten year old could look up the latest stats of his favorite baseball player on his phone on the school bus," he "couldn't get an update on how we were spending billions of taxpayer dollars while at my desk in the White House."

Kundra-an immigrant from India who came to the United States unable to speak English when he was 11-set out to try to fix that, and accomplished what he believes is a significant amount of reform in two years through a series of initiatives such as the "cloud first" policy, the federal IT dashboard and the Data.gov online repository.

In his reflections, he recounted the evolution of Data.gov, which at first was run "like a lean start-up" from a site with only a handful of datasets to one that's being mined by developers to create new applications to better serve the American public. "On day one, we launched with a Minimum Viable Product with only 47 datasets," he said. Now, the site has nearly 400,000 datasets covering a range of focus areas that developers can embed in their own apps.

Moreover, the site "has spawned a global movement" promoting more data transparency, Kundra said, with 21 nations, 29 U.S. states, 11 cities, and several international organizations now with open-data platforms.

"In the coming months and years, we will see an explosion of apps based on open data platforms around the world," he said.

Kundra said he considered his time in public service and the changes he sought to make a way "to give back to a country that has given me so much."

"Since I first arrived here as a kid all those years ago, I've been inspired by that fundamentally American notion that no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like or how much money you have, you have a right to dream big and act boldly," he said. "It's an idea that's etched into our nation's DNA."

But the work Kundra began at the federal government will only continue to serve the country well if it's continued, not only by federal officials but also by him and other advocates of technology and how to use it for the greater good, he said.

"We have shown that it is possible to change the status quo," Kundra wrote. "But we must remember that nothing is immune to the laws of physics, especially entropy. Left alone, things tend to move from order to disorder--and the hard work this administration has done to reform federal IT could fall back unless we keep our shoulder to the wheel."

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