New CIO's Job One: Fix federal contracting

DC's Guv 2.0 czar Vivek Kundra promises to bring federal government into the modern age, but he will have to confront the government's cumbersome contracting and purchasing procedures.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor

Absolutely brilliant choice: President Obama has named D.C. CTO Vivek Kundra as Chief Information Officer of the United States. I wrote about Kundra in January, based on a Washington Post article. Kundra has been aggressively been driving DC to adopt Web 2.0 technologies, pushing down costs and increasing government responsiveness.

Obama seems particularly interested in the “cutting costs” aspect, The Times’ Brian Knowlton noting that a six-line message from the White House referred twice to cost-cutting.

In a 25-minute conference call, Kundra set these sweet goals:

  • extend use of cloud computing in the federal government
  • put vast amounts of public information online through a data.gov website
  • make government IT just as good as private sector IT

So two major themes here -- cutting costs and modernizing IT. They go together of course. But it’s not just the technology. When the topic turns to making government ops more efficient, the media quickly notes (I heard the News Hour bring this up in an interview with Janet Napolitano) that every president says there will be cost-savings through efficiency. Why does it never happen?

Simple answer: failure to reform government’s contracting and purchasing procedures, which have become sticky with red tape, unnecessarily slow and burdensome and corrupted with no-bid contracts. I’m no contracting expert and I realize government is burdened with legal requirements, but I know that large private sector organizations manage to move much more swiftly than government does.

It’s not as sexy as running a contest for open-source applications to improve government but Kundra will have to work with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to devise a new way for the government to do business. Without doing so, government IT will never match the private sector’s and more importantly we will continue to waste taxpayer money at a time when we can least afford to do so. If reform succeeds it will benefit government and taxpayers for decades to come.

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