Kundra to launch federal data feeds

By opening vast realms of data that federal agencies are now keeping in-house, federal CIO Vivek Kundra hopes to spark new ways of using that information to better serve citizens and even create new industries.

As one of his first acts as federal chief information officer, Vivek Kundra plans to establish a governmentwide repository of data feeds, which he called data.gov.

“We need to make sure that all that data that’s not private can be made public,” Kundra said during a White House press conference announcing the new CIO position. “What we should be thinking about is how do we begin with the assumption that the default be that we put information out into the public domain.”

By opening vast realms of data that federal agencies are now keeping in-house, Kundra hopes to spark new ways of using that information to better serve citizens and even create new industries.

Kundra cited examples of how the publishing federal government information has already “fundamentally transformed the economy” in certain areas. When the National Institutes of Health published its results from mapping the human genome, the agency “created a revolution in personalized medicine," in which hundreds of new drugs were created. When the Defense Department opened Global Positioning System readings for public use, an entire new industry of geolocational devices was born.

Kundra said that such work putting more data online "will require massive transformation on the back end to ensure the government will be able to deal with this new reality. One of the things we need to think about is how to put information into the right context."

This is not Kundra's first foray into data feeds. In his former role, as chief technology officer for the District of Columbia, he established an online data catalog that offered over 270 data feeds.

The feeds, taken from taken databases, range from crime incidents to purchase orders. They are offered in a range of basic formats, such as text files, common-separated values, Extensible Markup Language and Keyhole Markup Language for geographic annotation.

Although D.C. offers a few applications that render this data, the city also hoped that third parties would use the data. While at D.C., Kundra's office ran a contest called Apps For Democracy that encouraged volunteers to build open-source applications that used these data feeds in innovative and useful ways. Volunteers created 47 new applications.

At the press conference, Kundra pointed to how Facebook allows "self-organization and civic participation" on the part of its users who start their own issue-related groups and build their own applications for the social-networking site. By providing these data feeds, the government could also spurn greater involvement on the part of the public and industry with using such data.

Data.gov is one part of Kundra's overall agenda for the CIO position, that of assessing "how we are deploying technology in the federal government and [rethinking] what we could do in terms of finding the innovative path to lower the costs of government operations."

In addition to opening up troves of government-generated data, he also spoke of the leveraging the benefits of cloud computing, which has taken root in the consumer space, thanks to technologies such as Gmail, but hasn't taken hold in the public sector. "In your personal life, you don't need to hire consultants to build out all this infrastructure. You actually just leverage what is available in the cloud itself. Yet you look across federal government, you don't have a single platform that does this," he said.

"One of the biggest ticket items when it comes to information technology is the money the federal government spends on contracts. Frankly, some of them haven't performed really well and there haven't been consequences," he said. "We need to become serious and tough on those contractors who haven't delivered."

FCW reporter Mary Mosquera contributed to this report.

NEXT STORY: Cloud computing: myth or reality?

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