White House changes course, appoints its first federal CIO

Obama taps Vivek Kundra, the District of Columbia's CTO, for the post

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama today appointed the District of Columbia's chief technology officer, Vivek Kundra, as the federal government's first CIO. The decision to appoint a CIO is an apparent move by the White House to give it more control over the $80 billion that federal agencies spend annually on technology.

Obama still plans to name a chief technology officer, an appointment he announced early in his campaign for office, but the selection of a CIO was something of surprise and possibly a recognition by the new administration that the CTO won't have enough authority alone to shape federal technology spending.

Vivek Kundra, District of Columbia
Vivek Kundra

Of the appointment, Obama said in a statement that he has directed Kundra "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. As chief information officer, he will play a key role in making sure our government is running in the most secure, open, and efficient way possible."

Behind the scenes, the White House was being urged to appoint a CIO by some tech industry leaders.

Among them was Scott McNealy, chairman of Sun Microsystems Inc., who said he had discussed the merits of hiring a CIO with administration officials. The federal government, in terms of IT spending, dwarfs the spending of private companies, McNealy said in a recent interview with Computerworld. He also was surprised that the government didn't have someone of similar authority running IT. "There is not a corporation, a Fortune 1,000 company around that doesn't have a CIO," McNealy said.

One thing that Kundra likes as a technologist is accessibility to data and innovative approaches to application development. As CTO for the District of Columbia, Kundra pushed RSS-enablement of data to share information with the public. He also encouraged innovative use of this data with a contest last year called "Apps for Democracy," which encouraged developers to find new ways -- and business models -- to use this data.

Prior to taking the post as CTO for the District of Columbia, Kundra had been assistant secretary of commerce and technology for the commonwealth of Virginia.

In prior administrations, the chief federal IT official was known as the administrator of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology. Karen Evans was the most recent person to serve in that role and was often called the de facto CIO for the federal government.

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