Kundra: Closing the IT gap is the key to making government work better for the American people

Today, the first chief information officer of the United States, Vivek Kundra, shared his reflections on public service.

Kundra, whose last day of work at the White House Office of Management and Budget was last Friday, is now at the Harvard Kennedy School and Berkman Center.

I arrived at a White House that was, as the Washington Post put it, “stuck” in the “Dark Ages of technology.” In their words, “If the Obama campaign represented a sleek, new iPhone kind of future, the first day of the Obama administration looked more like the rotary-dial past.”

As my team congratulated me on the new job, they handed me a stack of documents with $27 billion worth of technology projects that were years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget. At the time, those documents were what passed for real-time updates on the performance of IT projects. My neighbor’s ten year old could look up the latest stats of his favorite baseball player on his phone on the school bus, but I couldn’t get an update on how we were spending billions of taxpayer dollars while at my desk in the White House. And at the same time, the President of the United States had to fight tooth and nail to simply get a blackberry.

These were symptoms of a much larger problem.

The information technology gap between the public and private sectors makes the Federal Government less productive and less effective at providing basic services to its citizens. Closing this gap is the key to making government work better for the American people – the ultimate goal.

His complete thoughts are embedded below. If you’re interested in frank insight into why changing government through information technology isn’t easy, read on.

Vivek Kundra’s Reflections on Public Service 2011

The US CIO goes to the white board to describe good government

Earlier this week, United States CIO Vivek Kundra turned to the White House whiteboard to talk about sunshine, savings and service. If you’re unfamiliar with Kundra, he’s the man who has proposed and now is entrusted with implementing sweeping federal IT reform. One of the tools he’s been applying to the task is the so-called IT dashboard, which helps the White House Office of Management and Budget, where he serves to track IT spending. He claims to have reduced federal IT spending by some $3 billion dollars over the past two years with increased tracking and scrutiny.The federal CIO explains more about the results from that work, below.

UPDATE: As open data consultant Dan Morgan pointed out, however, the Government Accountability Office reported that while OMB has made improvements to its dashboard, “further work is needed by agencies and OMB to ensure data accuracy.”

…inaccuracies can be attributed to weaknesses in how agencies report data to the Dashboard, such as providing erroneous data submissions, as well as limitations in how OMB calculates the ratings. Until the selected agencies and OMB resolve these issues, ratings will continue to often be inaccurate and may not reflect current program performance. GAO is recommending that selected agencies take steps to improve the accuracy and reliability of Dashboard information and OMB improve how it rates investments relative to current performance and schedule variance. Agencies generally concurred with the recommendations; OMB did not concur with the first recommendation but concurred with the second. GAO maintains that until OMB implements both, performance may continue to be inaccurately represented on the Dashboard.

One question left unanswered: Is /good the new /open? Decide for yourself at the newGood Government” section at WhiteHouse.gov.