Kundra Frustrated by Lack of Authority
The only reason I was able to make any progress at all was that I was at a very low level in the federal IT structure, so I worked with these managers daily. I was able to convince them to try one tiny thing at a time. The federal CIO doesn't have even that small advantage. He works remotely, passes out broad policy objectives, and has no direct contact with people in the trenches. Knowing all of this, one has to wonder why Kundra was willing to take the job. To understand his motivations, it helps to know a little about how things work here in Washington. First, when the president asks you to take on a job, it's pretty hard to say no. It's especially hard when it's in your area of specialty, you have firm ideas about how things can be improved, and when you know that if you're successful you can make a huge positive change in how the government works.So once Kundra leaves Washington for Harvard, where does this leave his initiatives? Right now, that's unclear. Kundra just released a 25-point plan for improving federal IT. There was general agency buy-in. But how much of that buy-in was lip service is unclear. His ideas about allowing the use of consumer products in the federal government may get some traction if only because federal budgets are so tight that CIOs will do anything that might save money. The idea of moving mission-critical applications such as email to the cloud is less clear. The next person appointed to be the federal CIO will have to work with the same lack of authority and a budget to carry out real changes. In addition, the next CIO will have a host of new challenges, including a very significant level of security threats, antiquated IT environments that are much too old to move to the cloud (or even to new computers) and for which there are no funds for updating those environments. There are also significant operational challenges with many of the ideas that have been floated so far. The bottom line is that the job of federal CIO is a tough one-perhaps too tough for the position as currently envisioned.
Second, Kundra was the CIO of the city of Washington, D.C., when he was tapped for the federal job by the president. Washington probably has the most dysfunctional government in the U.S. It's easy to suspect that once Kundra found out just how awful things were in the D.C. government, he was already looking for an escape route. I know I would have been.