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Kundra calls for “global Cloud First policy”

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Before leaving office this month, federal chief information officer Vivek Kundra laid out the administration’s “Cloud First” policy, which requires agencies to give priority to cloud computing services as opposed to buying hardware and software.

State and local government are also moving forward with cloud computing, but Kundra’s vision is the “creation of a global cloud first policy that forces nations to work together” on issues concerning cloud and whether cloud data should be shared between nations, Kundra said in a Tuesday New York Times op-ed piece. If cloud data can be shared, what restrictions should be in place?

In Japan, the Ministry of Economic Trade and Industry expects the country’s cloud computing market will reach $20.1 billion by 2015, said Kundra, adding that the United States can’t afford to be left behind. That number is projected to reach $3 billion in India over the same time period and create 100,000 jobs.

“Public and private organizations that preserve the status quo of wasteful spending will be punished, while those that embrace the cloud will be rewarded with substantial savings and 21st-century jobs,” he said.

Within the federal government, there are mixed feelings about cloud computing. The General Services Administration was the first agency to move its email to the cloud, and GSA expects to cut costs by 50 percent over five years. “But other agencies have balked,” Kundra said, using the State Department as an example. The department is concerned about potential security risks because the data is stored off site by a contractor.

Kundra said organizations that don’t adopt cloud computing are at greater risk because employees will find a way to use services like Dropbox and Gmail that they are accustomed to. This creates an “IT shadow” that could cause greater vulnerabilities than a “properly overseen cloud computing system.”

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White House to name new federal CIO

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The White House will announce today that former Microsoft executive Steven VanRoekel will replace Vivek Kundra as the federal chief information officer, according to an administration official.

VanRoekel left his post as managing director of the Federal Communications Commission in June for an executive director position with the U.S. Agency for International Development. His Twitter account, @stevenvDC, has already been updated to reflect his new position as federal CIO. The New York Times reported the news early Thursday.

At the FCC, VanRoekel headed the agency’s new media efforts and the redesign of FCC.gov, which operates in a cloud computing environment. Prior to joining the FCC in 2009, VanRoekel held various positions with Microsoft during his 15-year career there. While at the FCC, he blogged about efforts to grasp the benefits of modern technology like cloud computing, a sign that he is on board with the administration’s move to cloud computing.

“Thanks to clear vision and consistent execution from government leaders, agencies are increasingly empowered to leverage the benefits of cloud computing,” he wrote.

Kundra, who is meeting with reporters today, announced in June that he would resign this month for a fellowship at Harvard University.

 

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Carper calls on OMB to detail impact of e-government cuts

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Following up on concerns about decreased funding for the General Services Administration’s e-government fund, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., has asked the federal chief information officer to detail how this will impact transparency efforts.

In an April 21 letter to Vivek Kundra, Carper expressed his concern for the future of public websites like the ITDashboard, USASpending.gov and data.gov that rely on e-government funds to operate. Lawmakers slashed e-government funding from $34 million to $8 million in the 2011 spending bill.

The dashboard, which updates the public on the performance of major information technology projects, coupled with in-depth reviews of at-risk projects, has saved the administration $3 billion, Kundra has said.  

“I remain concerned with how the new lower funding level for the E-Gov Fund might not only impede the progress made thus far to make government more open and transparent, but also harm efforts to cut wasteful and duplicative spending in the federal government,” Carper wrote in the letter.

At an April 12 hearing by the Senate subcommittee on federal financial management and government information, Carper asked Kundra how the Office of Management and Budget is responding to the cuts.

“Given the original request versus where we are right now, we’re still evaluating the implications, but we are going to have to make some tough decisions around which systems are going to have to go offline, versus what can be supported with the $8 million fund,” Kundra replied.

Carper is requesting specific details about what will be affected by the cuts and how OMB intends to use available funding to continue some of the current initiatives.

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White House on fed websites: Keep it simple, stupid

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I’m at the General Services Administration’s Government Web and New Media Conference today, listening to administration officials talk about open government, social media, and how to best use technology to reach the public. And one point keeps coming up: When it comes to websites and other programs, keep it simple, stupid.

OK, so White House CIO Vivek Kundra and GSA Administrator Martha Johnson didn’t use those words exactly. But their message was clear: The public is increasingly using iPhones and other mobile devices that have trouble with overly-complex webpages. And if the federal government wants to reach citizens through those avenues, simplicity is key. But as Kundra said, that’s not as easy as it sounds:

What becomes really, really important all of a sudden is to figure out, how do you simplify the interaction? A lot of people confuse simplicity with a lack of engineering rigor. It’s actually the opposite. The simpler interaction is, on certain platforms, more complex. The underlying architecture, the engineering. And part of what we’re trying to do is drive toward that vision.

A little later, Johnson echoed Kundra’s point. She said that when agencies build websites and other tools for customers, they should remember exactly what those customers need and not shoehorn in fancy new features when something simpler will do:

I have two children, and when they were younger, I had to think twice about whether it was a toy that they wanted, or it was something that they needed. I think we get quite enamored with our technology toys, but we really need to pay attention to what our customers need. What we need more is a back-and-forth conversation, not a lot of really sophisticated toys that really swamp the user.

I want GSA to lead by example in all this. I want us to have the best website. I want a really, truly, GSA for Dummies website, where people can find what they need, without having to tackle a lot of complicated paths.

What do you think? Have federal websites gotten too complicated and taken with whiz-bang bells and whistles? Are those wonderful toys hampering your ability to reach all corners of the public?

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All you need is…data?

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"What's this? Data on GSA hiring times? That's much better than 'Octopus' Garden.' "

"What's all this, then? Data on GSA hiring times? That's much better than 'Octopus's Garden.' "

Look, we at FedLine are as fond of open government as the next business-of-federal-government-themed blog. But even we had to raise our eyebrows at this blog headline from White House Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra: “They Gave Us The Beatles, We Gave Them Data.gov.” *

Kundra’s blog isn’t actually about the Beatles, however. It’s more about how the British government took a cue from us Yanks and today launched its own site pulling together all its reports and raw data. Kundra says that states and cities around the world are also launching their own data aggregation sites:

All of these sites are dedicated to breaking down longstanding barriers between governments and the people they serve — facilitating collaboration and transforming dry data into tools that can improve people’s lives.

* Nothing against Kundra’s efforts, but I’d say we got the better end of this alleged Beatles/Data.gov swap. Although it is certainly nice to have stats on the operating capacity of nuclear reactors and private-sector job patterns for minorities and women in readily available Excel files, I don’t know if they stack up to “A Day In The Life.”

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Decentralized databases and procurement problems

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Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs contracting oversight subcommittee, plans to dive into the way federal agencies track government procurement data at a hearing scheduled for Sept. 29.

In a news release today, McCaskill’s office said the hearing will “assess the problems of the decentralized and cumbersome systems presently in place, and discuss current plans to develop a new platform for integrating these systems to ensure that goals of efficiency, transparency, and accessibility are met.”

The Federal Acquisition Regulation Council recently published a proposed rule to fulfill congressional mandates to integrate data from the Federal Procurement Data System, Past Performance Information Retrieval System and the Excluded Parties List System in one database. The idea is to make it easier for contracting officers to gauge whether a contractor is a responsible to do business with by having the information available in one place.

Vivek Kundra, the federal Chief Information Officer; William Woods, acquisition and sourcing management director for the Government Accountability Office; Adam Hughes, federal fiscal policy director for OMBWatch; and Trey Hodgkins, vice president for national security and procurement policy at TechAmerica are scheduled to testify.

And this FedLine Blogger/Federal Times reporter is scheduled to attend.

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Updated: AP reports federal CIO on leave

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Update 2: The Associated Press is reporting that Federal CIO Vivek Kundra is on leave “until further details of the case become known” following the raid of his former office this morning.

While the raid was going on Kundra spoke at an IT conference today. He set out bold plans for reforming federal IT by opening up more information to the public for review and feedback.

During today’s White House press briefing, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs declined to comment on the investigation into Kundra’s old office.

Stay tuned.

Update 1: The U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia released some court documents related to today’s raid at the District of Columbia’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer.

The documents accuse D.C. employee, Yusuf Acar of conspiring with a contractor, Sushil Bansal, to steal from city taxpayers. Both Bansal, president of Advanced Integrated Technologies Corporation, and Acar were arrested today.

According to the documents, Acar, acting chief security officer for the D.C. government, allegedly approved work orders for products and services from Bansal’s company that were in excess of what the city actually received. The difference between the actual cost to Bansal’s company and what the D.C. government paid was split by the two defendants, according to the documents filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Until February, the office where Acar worked was led by the new Federal Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra. Kundra is not mentioned in the court documents and sources said he is not under investigation.

View the original post after the jump.

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Clouds and feeds

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Just finished a conference call with Vivek Kundra, the president’s pick for chief information officer.

A few highlights. First, he promised to embrace cloud computing — which uses networked software distributed across remote servers, not on individual desktops — whenever it’s permissible under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and other security regulations. Cloud computing has been hugely successful in the private sector (Facebook and Gmail, for example, use a “cloud” model) but government has yet to really embrace it.

I reject the view that the public sector has to lag behind the private sector.

Kundra also promised to set up a new Web site, data.gov, that will provide public access to raw government data. He did something similar in the DC government. The site is here; it has feeds about crime and construction permits in the District, among other things. It’s allowed the public to do some cool things with DC data: CrimeReports.com, for example, overlays the crime feed on a Google map of the city, and allows you to track historical levels of crime in a neighborhood.

He also promised to take another look at federal cybersecurity policies once the administration finishes its 60-day review.

Part of that review involves looking closely at private-sector infrastructure… we need to make sure the private sector is fully engaged. And we need to move away from reports and processes and focus on how to do security.

Kundra will be doing two jobs, serving as CIO, and as OMB’s e-gov administrator. President Obama still plans to appoint a chief technology officer.

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Transition Watch: Obama Names Vivek Kundra Government's Chief Information Officer

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After weeks of speculation, it’s official. The White House announced today that Vivek Kundra will be the government’s chief information officer.

Kundra has served as the chief technology officer for Washington, D.C. since 2007. In his new role, he will direct governmentwide information technology investments, policy and spending oversight.  When a governmentwide chief technology officer is named, they will work together to advance the president’s technology agenda.

We’ll have more for you following a news conference with Kundra later today.

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