Kundra Challenges Feds To Spend Smarter On IT

At the NASA IT Summit, the Federal CIO called on federal agencies to "stop the madness" of wasting money on data centers and other IT resources.

Image Gallery: 12 Worst Government Websites
(click for larger image and for full photo gallery)
Federal CIO Vivek Kundra acknowledged that the federal government has to "stop the madness" when it comes to wasting money on data centers and other IT resources that aren't working effectively. Speaking at the NASA IT Summit on Thursday, Kundra outlined some accomplishments the federal government has made to trim the fat of IT operations.

But he said that much more can be done to streamline IT at federal agencies, which should look to NASA projects like the Nebula cloud-computing platform -- launched last year at another NASA event -- as an example. "The Nebula platform is being leveraged across agencies across the government," he said.

Technology like this can help the federal government "find the path that moves us away from spending billions of dollars that frankly could be better spent," Kundra said.

Kundra cited progress the federal government has made on IT since his first day in office, when he was "handed a stack of PDF documents and … told, 'Congratulations, welcome to the federal government. Here are over $26 billion-worth of IT projects that are way over budget and way behind schedule.'"

A good number of those projects -- such as a Veterans Administration's financial-system overhaul that begun in 1998 and was finally cancelled last month, and the Department of Defense's plan to build an integrated human-resource system that wasted $1 billion -- have been cancelled. But there is more work to be done, and Kundra said in the last month alone he "sat down with every major agency" to review projects that are behind schedule, over budget or off course to come up with a way to get them back on track. "It's imperative that every dollar we invest in this fiscal environment, that the investments don't end up become wasteful," he said.

Project execution is not the only problem the government faces, Kundra acknowledged. He said federal procurements take "far too long" and cited lack of a common architecture -- even within departments -- also is a major problem. To the latter point, he cited an example at the Department of Interior where someone could not send an email department-wide because of siloed email systems. "That is why we're sitting down with every department to make sure that as we go into the 2012 budget process we look at the infrastructure," he said.

Situations like that also inspired the government's crackdown on data centers, something the Obama administration ordered in June. The federal government grew its data centers from 432 in 1998 to more than 1100 today, a number that the Obama administration hopes to cut considerably, Kundra said.

Still, while Kundra is optimistic about the federal government's ability to shape up IT operations, others - including some federal IT executives themselves -- are more skeptical, particularly when it comes to data-center consolidation.

A recent survey found that many federal IT executives don't think agencies will achieve data-center consolidation in the timeline the Obama administration is targeting. Moreover, some others think it may never happen at all.

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer