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Federal CIO Kundra Resigns For Harvard Job

Vivek Kundra will leave the White House for the Ivy League after two years of pushing aggressively for federal IT reform on consolidation, cloud computing, and cybersecurity.

Vivek Kundra
Vivek Kundra
Vivek Kundra, the federal government's first official CIO, will resign from his position in August to take a fellowship at Harvard University, the White House announced Thursday morning.

In more than two years in the White House, Kundra has been an aggressive advocate for change in federal IT. Key initiatives under his watch include a government-wide data center consolidation and cloud computing initiative, a policy that advocates adoption of cloud computing, statistics-based IT project reviews called TechStat, and the launch of open government sites like the federal IT Dashboard and Data.gov. In December, Kundra released an ambitious 25-point plan for reforming federal IT operations.

"When he began at the White House, he brought with him the promise of good ideas and a hard-charging style focused on getting things done, necessary qualities to tackle the difficult issues facing federal IT--an aging infrastructure with rising operating costs, too many major projects failing to deliver, and increasing vulnerability to outside threats," Office of Management and Budget director Jack Lew said in a statement. "Two and a half years after joining the Administration, Vivek has delivered on that promise."

Along with federal CTO Aneesh Chopra and federal chief performance officer Jeff Zients, Kundra was nicknamed by former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel as one of the White House's "McKinsey guys," someone who was "about making things happen." Lew credited Kundra with improving government transparency, saving the government $3 billion in "wasteful" IT spending, toughening the nation's cybersecurity posture, and pushing the government toward cloud computing.

While Kundra has had some success in pushing reform for federal IT, he leaves much work yet undone. Some of the main stumbling blocks to the success of federal IT remain in place, including a frequent lack of authority among federal CIOs, and an inflexible budget process that is often blamed for the implementation of technology that's a generation behind the times by the time it gets deployed. Cloud computing in government remains in early phases, and the future of some of Kundra's open government initiatives remain in question because of budget cuts.

When he departs in August, Kundra will join Harvard as a joint fellow at the Kennedy School and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. It's not clear at this time whether the position will be a research or teaching position. Kundra's name was not included on a list of other Berkman fellows that was released by Harvard on Wednesday.

There's no indication yet of how the White House will carry out the search for Kundra's successor, or when one will be appointed. However, Lew said that the White House is "planning for a smooth transition" and that, regardless of who comes next, the administration will continue the efforts Kundra has helped institute to change federal IT management and cut government waste.

The OMB did not immediately indicate any reason for his job switch, but Kundra, like many White House officials, works very long hours, and he recently became a father. Before joining the White House, Kundra was CTO of Washington, D.C.

What industry can teach government about IT innovation and efficiency. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Government: Federal agencies have to shift from annual IT security assessments to continuous monitoring of their risks. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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