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Federal CIO: U.S. Government Needs New Software

NEW YORK -- Vivek Kundra, the CIO of the Obama administration, told attendees at Wired's Disruptive Innovation Conference that the U.S. government is ready to recognize innovation -- because it must.

The U.S. government will need to use new technologies in order to deliver on its vision of transparency, a vision that will take a huge step forward with the launch of the data.gov site at the end of June.

"Today, the average government IT procurement process takes 18 months to two years," Kundra said. "During that time, you've missed an entire cycle of Moore's Law by the time you award the contract."

He said that when the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was preparing to launch a blog, the IT administrator said that certification and other costs would make the project cost $600,000.

Luckily, common sense intervened. "Wiser minds prevailed and the TSA leveraged an online free solution," Kundra said. "I want to lower the cost of government operations and invest in innovative technologies."

Cloud computing is one path forward, but even consumers are adopting it slowly. The government, not known as an early adopter, could face special challenges.

"I reject the view of government as technologically behind," Kundra said. "Look at DARPA, NASA, and others. There are some amazing things happening."

Kundra said that as long as new technology does not harm national security or the privacy of U.S. citizens, the government should see no obstacles in adopting it.

Change isn't easy. It's a big organization and requires time-consuming change management. "I chair a CIO council. We are working towards a vision of what 21st century government should be," said Kundra.

It helps to have the CEO on your side. "The President is very tech-savvy," Kundra said. "His campaign was centered around technology. He's shown that he knows how to leverage technology to drive the performance outcomes we're looking for."

data.gov

Near the end of June, the U.S. government will release a tremendous amount of data on the Web site data.gov. Kundra said that the site has 280 feeds now and will have 100,000 feeds at launch.

Users will be able to drill down to individual projects and see any cost overruns or delays. They will be able to see which contractors are working on which projects, and which agency managers are responsible for them.

"The idea is to take every data feed the government has and to let people do whatever they want with it," he said.

"The default setting should not be secret and closed," he added. "The default setting should be that it's open while making sure that we do not release data that's classified or sensitive. We want to allow people to slice and dice and cube data."

Kundra said that government agencies are competing to deliver more feeds to data.gov, and to deliver better feeds. He noted that users can rate the quality of the feeds and said that agencies will compete both to deliver more feeds and to deliver better feeds.

He noted that the budget process helps ensure that agencies will choose to participate in open government.

He said that the data does not need to be critical to national security. It could be important to individuals. "For people allergic to peanuts, we can show every food that has or does not have peanuts," he said.

Of course, there are very serious uses for the data, too. Kundra noted that healthcare is a top priority, and said that he expects the government's data to provide greater visibility into healthcare costs.

"Bending the cost curve on the health care system is vital. We need better analytics on healthcare delivery. When looking at the cost of a hip replacement in New York City as compared to DC as compared to Oklahoma City, we don't have the ability to run that comparative analysis across the board."

To get there, the federal government may require help from the states. "If every city and state put as much online as possible, imagine the innovation that could happen as a result," Kundra said.