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Kundra created a buzz

Last Thursday, the World Wide Web Consortium kicked off a workshop for establishing e-gov standards for information sharing. There, attendee buzz was all around a fresh catchphrase: open-government data.

The phrase was a distillation of an idea that the new federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra has had for government agencies exposing more of their data for government use. And everyone was discussing it. One attendee asked how agencies would prepare the data in such a way that it could be useful to others. Maybe all government employees should have their own blogs so they could describe how they are fulfilling the agency mission, another suggested.

Kundra's vision was broad and would require a lot of work. But many federal managers — at least those charged with keeping and extending government data — were clearly passionate about making the whole idea of government data feeds work.

Now that vision may be evaporating as quickly as it arrived.

It was only two weeks ago that Kundra, formerly the chief technology officer for Washington, D.C., was named the first federal CIO for the U.S. government. Judging from his work in Washington, he had more than a few innovative ideas about how government could better use IT — from cloud computing and open data feeds to better reporting tools for displaying such data.

A week later and just a few hours after his keynote at the FOSE IT expo, the FBI arrested a member of Kundra's D.C. office on charges of bribery. Although Kundra was not charged, the Obama administration placed him on a leave of absence until the scope of the criminal case could be better understood.

Even if Kundra is cleared of malfeasance, the question is still out whether he will be returned to the federal CIO spot. "The fact that Kundra himself is not accused of any wrongdoing is beside the point, " Federal Computer Week news editor Michael Hardy pointed out. "As the District of Columbia’s chief technology officer since 2007, he was responsible for the actions of his 300 employees."

For an administration harping on government transparency and oversight, the fact that these shenanigans took place in Kundra's office may be reason enough to look elsewhere to fill the post.

Whatever the outcome for Kundra, it would be a pity to lose his ideas, even if they require additional work on the part of IT managers. As Kundra pointed out, the federal government has fallen behind the commercial sector when it comes to deploying new technologies, and this disparity leads to both greater costs and less citizen service. Opening government data and making greater use of commercial cloud technologies are both valid ideas that could close that gap.

Update (3/17/09): The White House has reappointed Kundra as CIO, according to sources.


Posted by Joab Jackson on Mar 16, 2009 at 9:39 AM


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