Google, BlackBerry Enthusiast Is Obama's CIO Choice
President Obama March 5 named Vivek Kundra, CTO for the District of Columbia, as his administration's CIO. As CIO, Kundra will direct the policy and strategic planning of federal information technology investments and be responsible for oversight of federal technology spending.
"Vivek Kundra will bring a depth of experience in the technology arena and a commitment to lowering the cost of government operations to this position," Obama said in a statement. "I have directed him to work to ensure that we are using the spirit of American innovation and the power of technology to improve performance and lower the cost of government operations."
Under Obama, Kundra is expected to focus on government technology operations while working closely with a still unnamed CTO. Obama wants his CTO to focus on policy issues.
"As chief information officer, [Kundra] will play a key role in making sure our government is running in the most secure, open and efficient way possible," said Obama.
The Kundra announcement comes two days after Obama named Julius Genachowski as his nominee to serve as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
"Today's announcement recognizes the vital role that technology plays in our nation's economy and job creation, and its influence on open and transparent government," Mark Bohannon, SIIA's (Software & Information Industry Association) senior vice president for public policy and general counsel, said in a statement. "Separating the roles of CIO-who will direct the policy and strategic planning of federal information technology investments and be responsible for oversight of federal technology spending-from the role of chief technology officer, makes a lot of sense."
Kundra joined the Washington, D.C., government as CTO in 2007 after serving as assistant secretary of commerce and technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia, the first dual cabinet role in the state's history. As the district's CTO, Kundra attracted national attention by embracing such Web 2.0 tools as YouTube, wikis, Twitter and Facebook.
Kundra is also well known in the district for his use of both a BlackBerry and an iPhone, and his annual visits to research labs at Google, Apple and Cisco, and drop-by conversations with technology venture capitalists and computer science professors. During his tenure, Kundra stressed government accountability to citizens.
As CTO, Kundra has launched government initiatives that include posting all proposals for city contracts to the district Web site and making all bids available as PDF documents. He also insists on making all district communications with potential vendors available online.
Perhaps most ambitiously, last October Kundra started the "Apps for Democracy" program, urging developers to write programs enabling citizen participation in local government. Within 30 days, the district received 47 apps that Kundra estimates are worth several million dollars. He also said it would have taken several years for his office to develop the same apps.
"While the immediate goal of the Applications for Democracy contest is to develop innovative software to present District data, its long-term goals are broader," Kundra said at a press conference touting the success of the program. "By making government data easy for everyone to access and use, the District hopes to foster citizen participation in government, drive private-sector technology innovation and growth, and build a new model for government-private sector collaboration that can help all governments address the technology challenges of today and tomorrow."
Kundra is a native Indian, but his family moved to Tanzania when Kundra was young. Before he was a teenager, his family moved to the Washington suburbs. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia's Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership and holds a master's degree in IT from the University of Maryland.