Stop thinking you’re special, gov’t: Vivek Kundra appointed CIO

Kundra was appointed March 5 to Chief Information Officer (CIO). CIO is a new position, and different from Chief Technology Officer, an as-of-yet undefined but promised new position. 

His goals are really exciting: 

  • extend use of cloud computing (work using large servers instead of desk-top based computers)
  • put loads of public information online at data.gov (good things have come out of this ie: Human Genome Project)
  • make government IT as good at private sector IT 
  • cut costs; increase efficiency (change federal contracting/purchasing, cut down on red tape, use off-the shelf software – part of the gov’t’s lag is its insistence on programs made especially for it. 
  • open gov’t records, invite public to participate in decision-making (recovery.gov – “show how, when, and where money from the federal stimulus package is being spent by states, Congressional districts, and federal contractors” – xconomy; data.gov) 

My Two Cents:

This definitely sounds like it’s heading in the right direction. I’m especially excited about the increased transparency that comes from having government information online. It means that the public, or you and I can act as watch-dogs for the government. Of course, all the information goes through officials beforehand to make sure that no sensitive information leaks out, but even having to publish data means that there will be less shadiness. Also, researchers (who I bet are dying to get their hands on some of that information) will be able to have data whose analysis really matters to public issues. For example, I would really like to know about the effectiveness of No Child Left Behind.  The data will be on a much larger scale than most researchers can accomplish on their own. Generally limited research budgets force researchers to limit their sample size and then extrapolate. Knowing the nature of research, I have no qualms about the extrapolation, but it will doubtless be more accurate with a larger sample size. Also, the article on tableau mentioned Kundra’s earlier work improving public transparency on issues like crime, school security, disaster response, etc. Apparently, he walks the walk along with talking the talk. 

I wonder about one of the general themes of Kundra’s revisions: getting the government to operate more like the private sector. While his proposed changes sound good enough (increase efficiency by changing contracting, use more readily available software), part of me is just wary of the sound of the government becoming more like the private sector. We’ll have to wait and see. On the other hand, if he means stripping off the air of covertness, groaning bureaucracy and general stuffiness that has been associated with the government, I’m all in. 

I just visited recovery.gov and right now it is only a pretty page. Pros: clear, well-organized, well-planned FAQ page. Cons: I hope the information comes in soon. The way the FAQ page words it, they’re just waiting to hear back from agencies. Better not be too long-coming!

Sources:

General goals: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/05/the-nations-new-chief-information-officer-speaks/
Fix contracting: http://government.zdnet.com/?p=4436
Tableau to clarify info: http://www.xconomy.com/seattle/2009/03/05/vivek-kundra-the-nations-new-cio-is-supporter-of-seattle-startup-tableau-software/

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