Government // Enterprise Architecture
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3/9/2009
10:50 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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Global CIO: The $200-Million-A-Day Man: Our New Federal CIO

With his staggering federal IT budget, Vivek Kundra needs to address these six crucial questions.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra could prove his commitment to transparency by answering these six questions: (1) Do you report to President Obama? (2) If not, how sharp are your elbows? (3) Will you commit to chopping your stupendously bloated $71 billion budget to $50 billion? (4) If not, can your cost-control pledges be taken seriously? (5) As an unelected official, who are your customers? (6) By what metrics will those customers be able to measure your performance?

At the time Kundra was appointed last week, InformationWeek and Global CIO undertook an extensive analysis of him, his new position, and the strategies we feel he should pursue. As part of that effort, I posted a blog entry with 10 questions for Kundra -- since then, based on conversations with some of you and members of that unique species known as Washington insiders, I've focused that list down to the six most-crucial questions that the holder of this brand-new office should focus upon. And while money isn't the sole consideration for Kundra or for any other CIO, it's not exactly trivial, either, particularly in this severe economy and when this CIO oversees, each and every day, IT spending of $200 million. Or roughly $1.4 billion per week, $6 billion per month, $18 billion per quarter, $36 billion per half.

So bear that number in mind as you read the extensions of each of those six questions, and please continue to share with us your ideas and recommendations on the roles this new public-sector IT leader should play.

Follow-up to Question #1: "Is President Obama your boss?" In the private sector, CIOs who don't report to the CEO lack the power to drive new thinking and drive significant change. As for who your boss will be, The Washington Post said you "will operate under the auspices of the White House." That means nothing -- or at least nothing that leads to greater understanding of what you will, in fact, be able to achieve. Inform your fellow citizens: Who's your boss?

Follow-up to Question #2: "If your boss is not President Obama, then how sharp are your elbows?" As you attempt to get all the deeply entrenched Washington institutions to follow your IT vision, and as conflicts arise as they most surely will, what if those "auspices" under which or whom you operate lack the clout to face down the chair-warmers at the IRS or FBI and other federal agencies with histories of serial IT disasters? What leverage do you have? Whose authority will allow you to steamroll the decision-makers (well, status-quo-preservers) who have somehow found ways to devour $200 million of taxpayer money every single day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year?

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Follow-up to Question #3: "Will you chop your budget to $50 billion?" Your budget of $71 billion probably matches the combined IT budgets of the 50 largest companies in America. And the CIOs at just about every one of those 50 private-sector corporations have spent the past 12-18 months leading brutal cost-cutting efforts within their organizations, regardless of how "strategic" those companies believe IT to be. And while your first-day comments offered some vague allusions to "carefully scrutinizing" that current outflow of $200 million per day, you could really establish some credibility for yourself and the White House among the American people by committing to chopping that nearly unimaginable number down to $50 billion. That move would not only save hard-working taxpayers $21 billion but also send to those bureaucrats government-wide who will fight you every step of the way a thunderous message that you have come aboard to deliver some change that they had damn well better believe in.

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