Outgoing federal CIO warns of 'an IT cartel'

Vivek Kundra, in appearance before White House science committee, also tells of the risk of data sharing

WASHINGTON - In a wide-ranging discussion Friday with President Barack Obama's top science advisors, Federal CIO Vivek Kundra warned of the dangers of open data access and complained of "an IT cartel" of vendors.

He also believes the U.S. can operate with just a few data centers.

Kundra, who is leaving his job in mid-August, offered a kaleidoscopic view of his concerns about federal IT in an appearance before President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

In particular, Kundra is worried about the "mosaic effect," the unintended consequence of government data sharing, where data sets are combined and layered in ways that can strip away privacy and pose security threats.

In the age of Facebook and Twitter, where a lot of personal data is already available, government data that may have been "innocuous in the past," can be used to "identify people that may not want to be identified," Kundra said.

At this meeting, he was sharply critical of government IT contracting and told the committee "that we almost have an IT cartel within federal IT" that's made up of "very few companies" that benefit from government spending "because they understand the procurement process better than anyone else."

"It's not because they provide better technology," Kundra said of the contractors.

As federal CIO, Kundra has been an advocate for data sharing, a critic of big government vendor contracts, and a believer in new technologies, particularly the cloud. He is leaving his job to take a fellowship at Harvard.

Kundra said the government knows "that true value lies at the intersection of multiple data sets" but he also realizes that if data is released "without actually thinking about the national security implications," there could be issues.

As an example, Kundra said his office has been talking to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about data it was going to release and acknowledged a "very vigorous debate" around it, without revealing specifics.

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