Update | 12:46 p.m. In a 25-minute conference call, Mr. Kundra discussed some of his plans and interests, including his intention to extend the use of “cloud computing” in the federal government and to create a data.gov web site that
will put vast amounts of government information into the public domain.
He sketched out an ambition that is hardly modest: to shatter the assumption that government technology automatically must lag behind the private sector. Saul Hansell at Bits has more on the conference call.
First Federal Chief Information Officer | 10:06 a.m. Perhaps not surprisingly, President Obama has formed a close friendship with the District of Columbia’s young, Blackberry-addicted, problem-solving mayor, Adrian Fenty. Now, the president has raided Mr. Fenty’s staff to name a youthful, Indian-born techno-whiz as his first federal chief information officer.
The White House said Thursday that it had selected Vivek Kundra, 34, the chief technology officer for the District, to the federal position, where he will be expected to oversee a push to expand uses of cutting-edge technology. He will have wide powers over federal technology spending, over information sharing between agencies, over greater public access to government information and over questions of security and privacy.
But he will also – as Mr. Obama mentioned twice in the space of a six-line comment distributed by the White House – look for ways to “lower the cost of government operations” through technology.
Mr. Kundra’s background seems to suit him well for both aspects of the job. Born in India, he lived in Tanzania until the age of 11, when he moved to the Maryland suburb of Gaithersburg. One of his first memories there, according to a profile last month in The Washington Post, was of seeing a dog-food commercial on television. “I was shocked,” he said. “I was used to seeing people starve in Africa. It was mind-boggling to me that people could afford to feed their dogs!”
He appears to bring a similar tight-fisted mentality to his oversight of technology in 86 District agencies.
In just 19 months with the District, Mr. Kundra has moved to post city contracts on YouTube and to make Twitter use common in his office and others. He hopes to allow drivers to pay parking tickets or renew their driver’s licenses on Facebook.
His office’s Web site offers a “Digital Public Square” with links to information on everything from crime to parking to tourism. It provides a map of free wi-fi hot spots, a public library finder, leaf-collection schedules; even a widget to view live snow-plow progress.
A contest he launched in October – “Apps for Democracy” – brought 47 entries from residents offering applications to give District residents Web and cellphone access to crime reports, pothole-repair schedules and other city data, The Post reported.
Mr. Kundra, who likes to refer to citizens as “co-creators,” estimates he spent $50,000 for contest costs and prize money; he hopes to save $2.6 million over what it would have cost to hire contract developers.
Mr. Kundra, who holds a Master’s of Science in information technology from the University of Maryland, previously served as assistant secretary of commerce and technology in Virginia. InfoWorld magazine has called him one of the 25 top chief technology officers in the country.